NEW YORK: A New York judge declared a mistrial Friday for a man accused of murdering a “beautiful” six-year-old boy 36 years ago, in a case that has haunted millions of American parents.
The jury informed Judge Maxwell Wiley that they could not agree to acquit or convict Pedro Hernandez, 54, after three weeks of deliberations.
Etan Patz vanished after leaving his Manhattan home to walk alone for the first time to the bus stop to go to school on May 25, 1979. His body has never been found.
Hernandez was ordered back into custody and the court will now reconvene on June 10, when, an official told AFP, a new trial date could be set.
Hernandez has been in custody since 2012, when he confessed to police that he killed Etan in the basement of a New York grocery store before dumping his body out with the trash.
He later retracted his confession and pleaded not guilty when the trial opened in January.
The jury reached deadlock when just one person on the 12-member panel refused to convict Hernandez, jurors later told reporters.
The dissenting juror said he was swayed by arguments over Hernandez’s poor mental health and described the accused’s confession as “very bizarre no matter how many times it happened.”
Etan’s disappearance awakened Americans to the dangers of child abduction and fueled a generation of hyper-vigilant child rearing by parents terrified of letting their offspring out of their sight.
Etan’s father, Stan Patz, who attended each day of the trial, said he was convinced that Hernandez had kidnapped and murdered his son.
“We are frustrated and very disappointed the jury has been unable to come to a decision. Our long ordeal is not over,” he told reporters, adding that he was confident there would be a retrial.
The defense also say they are preparing for Hernandez to be retried.
Defense lawyer Harvey Fishbein argued that Hernandez had an IQ of 70, which would put him in the bottom two percent of the population, and said that convicted sex offender Jose Ramos was the real culprit.
Patz said the family no longer believed Ramos was responsible.
“Maybe he’s (Hernandez) a good man now but he did something impulsive and terrible and I think he should pay for it,” Patz said.
He described his son as a “beautiful, outgoing, friendly, curious little kid” who “would have made a great adult.”
Prosecutors had fought hard to build a case despite having no physical evidence to tie Hernandez to the crime.
New York district attorney Cyrus Vance did not immediately confirm he would seek a re-trial but said prosecutors believed there is “clear and corroborated evidence of the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.”
“The challenges in this case were exacerbated by the passage of time, but they should not, and did not, deter us.”
Etan’s parents were only alerted to his disappearance when he failed to come home from school at the end of the day.
His father was a photographer and his pictures of Etan were the first of a missing child featured on milk cartons as part of a national search.
In 1983, then US president Ronald Reagan declared the anniversary of his disappearance National Missing Children’s Day.
Etan was declared legally dead in 2001.