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Etan Patz case: Despite confession, a trial would be tricky (+video)

If Pedro Hernandez sticks to his confession and is found to be mentally competent, a judge will simply sentence him for killing schoolboy Etan Patz in 1979. But if he were to recant, prosecutors would face a hard decision.

Pedro Hernandez told family members that he'd done "something bad."
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Pedro Hernandez, the confessed killer of Manhattan schoolboy Etan Patz 33 years ago, may never go to a jury – if he sticks to his confession and is found to be mentally competent.

In that event, a judge will simply set a sentencing date after Mr. Hernandez undergoes extensive psychological testing.

If that happens, it will be the final chapter in a case that riveted much of the nation in 1979, when Etan, then 6 years old, never made it to school on the first day he was allowed to walk there on his own. At first, he was assumed to be lost. Then speculation arose that Etan had been kidnapped. His photo – showing his infectious smile and blond locks – appeared on milk cartons around the nation. The case reminded many of the kidnapping of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s son back in 1932.

However, if Hernandez were to change his mind and recant his confession, prosecutors would face a difficult decision: whether to put him on trial without corroborating evidence other than the confession.

Young Etan’s body has never been discovered. According to the New York Police Department, who charged Hernandez on Thursday with second-degree murder, the suspect said he placed the youngster’s body in a bag that was deposited in the trash. A month later, Hernandez, who was then 18, moved out of the city.

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