Jury in NY trial of 1979 missing boy Etan Patz is deadlocked
New York — The jury in the murder trial of a man accused of kidnapping and killing 6-year-old Etan Patz in 1979 said Wednesday that it is deadlocked, but the judge told them to keep deliberating.
The jurors sent a note to the judge saying they have been unable to reach a unanimous decision after 10 days of deliberations in the trial of Pedro Hernandez.
The defense argued for a mistrial, saying it was obvious the jury was hung.
“Any charge to them at this point, even sending a note in to them saying, ‘Would you like to try harder?’ is inherently coercive,” said lawyer Alice Fontier. “We believe that a mistrial is warranted, and any further proceedings after that are over the strenuous objections of the defense.”
The judge denied the defense request and told jurors to keep deliberating.
“Given the nature of this case, I don’t think you’ve been considering this case long enough to conclude that you cannot reach a verdict,” state Supreme Court Justice Maxwell Wiley told the weary-looking jurors, noting that with testimony read backs and an afternoon start on the first day, they hadn’t been discussing the case for a full 10 days.
“It’s not uncommon for a jury to have difficulty reaching a unanimous verdict in any case,” he noted, praising the jurors’ work so far.
When jurors say they’re deadlocked, it’s common for judges — at least the first time — to send them back to keep going. Defense lawyers often object, saying that that amounts to pressure on jurors to reach a verdict.
“They’ve reached a dead end,” one of Hernandez’ lawyers, Harvey Fishbein, said outside court. “The fact that they can’t render a verdict, at this point, tells me they cannot do it.”
Before sending their deadlock note, jurors had sent a note requesting to have both sides’ summations read back, an unusual request. The judge asked them to clarify whether they still wanted to re-hear the closing arguments.
Hernandez made a surprise confession in 2012. He told authorities he choked Etan in the basement of a convenience store where he worked and dumped the body a few blocks away.
But prosecutors had no physical evidence linking Hernandez to the crime. Etan’s body was never found. Defense attorneys suggested another man had committed the crime and said Hernandez was mentally ill.
The case has baffled authorities for decades.
Etan’s photo was among the first on a milk carton. His parents helped shepherd in an era of law enforcement advances that make it easier to track missing children and communicate between agencies. They were at the White House when Ronald Reagan named May 25 National Missing Children’s Day.
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