The man charged with killing a 6-year-old boy in 1979 made a false confession and will plead not guilty in a case that catalyzed the missing-children’s movement, his lawyer said yesterday. Pedro Hernandez’s admission in May to suffocating Etan Patz was a stunning turn in one of the most notorious and vexing cases in New York City history, prompting the first arrest ever in the case. But he is mentally ill, and his statements “are not reliable,” his lawyer, Harvey Fishbein, said after Hernandez made a brief court appearance yesterday. “The really sad part of this case is that it will take time, it will take money…and it will not tell the city what happened to Etan Patz,” Fishbein said.
An ashen-looking Hernandez, 69, stood in handcuffs during the hearing and never spoke. His wife and daughter were in the courtroom but left without talking to reporters. Hernandez has been held without bail since his arrest. While Fishbein has said Hernandez is schizophrenic and prone to hallucinations, the attorney said the New Jersey man is fit to stand trial. Legally, competence for trial doesn’t mean a defendant’s mental state can’t be part of his defense. But prosecutors say an exhaustive post-arrest investigation found enough evidence to seek an indictment and proceed to trial. “We believe the evidence that Mr. Hernandez killed Etan Patz to be credible and persuasive, and that his statements are not the product of any mental illness,” said Erin Duggan, a spokeswoman for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. A judge set a Dec. 12 date for Hernandez to enter a plea.