The New York Criminal Law Blog

Is it Possible That Pedro Herdandez Did Not Kill Etan Patz?

Pedro Hernandez confessed. Over the course of multiple sessions with investigators, he gave an astonishingly detailed account of how he lured 6-year-old Etan Patz into the basement of the bodega, strangled him, and disposed of the body in a banana box. So why might this all be an illusion?

"There's just nothing else on this guy," an anonymous source involved in the investigation told the New York Post. Despite the very detailed confession, investigators have found nearly no corroborating evidence. Without it, you essentially have a bipolar schizophrenic pointing a finger at himself, screaming, "I did it!" If he were identifying anyone else as the killer, would we even listen?

According to an article in The New York Times, schizophrenia affects about one percent of the population. Bipolar disorder affects about one and a half percent. The odds of having both would then be astronomical. Schizophrenia also tends to manifest itself in the late teens, which is about the time the alleged murder, the subsequent media frenzy, and Hernandez's move to New Jersey all occurred.

So far, according to the Post, the only other evidence of Hernandez's guilt is a few corroborating statements over the years to his family and acquaintances, and a box of child's clothing in his attic, including a boy's pair of briefs, a pair of blue shorts, and a yellow matchbox-style car. No DNA evidence was found on the items.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, ask yourselves this: what if the entire confession is the product of his schizophrenic delusions? According to psychology experts, false confessions are surprisngly common. Here in New York, we've even had the Governor commute 150 death row inmates due to the prevalence of false confessions. In this case alone, we've had other false confessions that were eventually dismissed.

Is it possible that, in our desire to finally close the case, after all of the frenzy over the other recent suspects, that we've taken the word of a mentally-ill man and ignored the fact that there's little else pointing to Hernandez as the killer?

It may not be likely that he's lying. It may not even be fifty-fifty odds. But, do you now have reasonable doubt as to his guilt?

Prosecutors will have six more weeks to investigate and prepare, as the parties to the case have just agreed to a six-week extension on the deadline for indicting Mr. Hernandez. Though it is possible to proceed without any additional evidence, one wonders if the prosecutor will have the ability to push past reasonable doubt when working with only the statements of a mentally-ill suspect.

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