A man has been convicted in the 1979 killing of Etan Patz, the New York City boy whose disappearance resulted in a nationwide shift in parenting.
Pedro Hernandez, of Maple Shade, New Jersey, was found guilty Tuesday of strangling the 6-year-old, nearly 38 years after the boy disappeared on his way to the school bus stop.
Tuesday's verdict serves as a modicum of solace for the slain boy’s family, who has waited decades to see justice served, Etan’s father, Stan Patz, told reporters.
“The Patz family waited a long time, but finally have some measure of justice for our wonderful little boy Etan,” Stan Patz said. “I'm really grateful that this jury finally came back with what I have known a long time, that this man, Pedro Hernandez, is guilty of doing something really terrible so many years ago."
“I am truly relieved and, I'll tell you, it's about time,” he continued. “It really is about time.”
Prosecutors commended Stan Patz, who never stopped hoping that the killer would one day be found.
"It's been almost 38 years and you've always been here, and you've always shown so much courage,” Chief Assistant District Attorney Karen Friedman Agnifilo told Stan Patz. “DA Vance always says cold cases are not forgotten cases here. We hope this verdict will finally bring you some measure of closure and some justice. And it's been such an honor to get to know you and thank you so much for your courage."
A jury made up of eight men and four women took nine days to reach a verdict, the New York Daily News reported.
The verdict came after a previous trial resulted in a hung jury. A single holdout juror in that trial refused to convict Hernandez following 18 days of deliberations.
Lawyers for Hernandez, whose IQ is just 70, reportedly argued his admissions were the result of a seven-hour police interrogation that was not recorded, and said that the evidence in Etan's murder points to another suspect in the case.
They said Hernandez’s mental illness — which they said is similar to schizophrenia — and histories of delusions lead him to falsely believe he was responsible for Etan’s killing.
"Pedro Hernandez is an odd, limited and vulnerable man," defense lawyer Harvey Fishbein said in his closing argument, The Associated Press reported. "Pedro Hernandez is an innocent man."
But prosecutors suggested Hernandez faked or exaggerated his symptoms.
Hernandez showed no reaction as jurors delivered their verdict, the AP wrote.
No one had been tried until Hernandez confessed to choking Etan after luring him into the basement of a SoHo bodega where he worked.
Etan vanished on May 25, 1979, the first day the boy's parents allowed him to walk to the school bus stop, located just two blocks from his family's apartment, by himself.
No trace of Etan has ever been found, and he was declared legally dead in 2001.
Parenting and policy was shaped by Etan’s abduction, as his disappearance embodied mothers and fathers’ worst fears and helped change the way authorities track kidnappings.
Etan was the one of the first missing children to be pictured on a milk carton, and in 1983, the anniversary of his disappearance was designated National Missing Children’s Day in the United States.