NEW YORK — A man authorities say confessed to the infamous 1979 disappearance of a 6-year-old boy from his New York City neighborhood has been formally charged with murder and kidnapping, a major milestone in a case that has stymied investigators and Etan Patz's devoted family for decades.
The indictment against Pedro Hernandez, 51, of Maple Shade, N.J., was made public Wednesday and sets up a potential showdown at trial over whether prosecutors can convince a jury that his claim that he strangled the boy — a secret kept for more than 30 years — is credible.
The suspect's attorney has argued that Hernandez is mentally ill and prone to hallucinations, and his confession can't be trusted.
Nothing that occurs in the course of this trial will answer what actually happened to Etan Patz, defense attorney Harvey Feinstein said in a statement.
Prosecutors countered that an exhaustive post-arrest investigation found enough evidence to seek an indictment and proceed to trial.
Hernandez was due to appear today in state court in Manhattan to face second-degree murder and first-degree kidnapping charges.
Etan's disappearance led to an intensive search and spawned a movement to publicize cases of missing children. His photo was among the first put on milk cartons, and his case turned May 25 into National Missing Children's Day.
The boy's body has never been found.
Etan was declared legally dead by his father more than a decade ago so he could sue convicted child molester Jose Ramos in the boy's death. Ramos was found responsible, but it's unclear how that finding could now factor into the prosecution of Hernandez.
Ramos, now 69, had been dating the boy's baby sitter in 1979 and was considered a suspect. He was later convicted of molesting two different children. He recently was released from the State Correctional Institution at Dallas, then immediately arrested on a Megan's Law violation for allegedly providing false information on a sexual offender registration form, according to an arrest affidavit.