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

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The key issue will be Hernandez's mental state at the time of the confession. “If he recants his confession, then it’s an issue of what level of confidence the district attorney and the police have in the original confession,” says former federal prosecutor Alan Kaufman, now a partner at the law firm Kelley Drye in New York. “If he is psychologically unstable and there is no independent evidence, the district attorney may not be confident he is the killer.”

To determine Hernandez's mental state when he confessed to the killing, mental health professionals will question him. On Friday, according to press reports, Hernandez was being examined in Bellevue Hospital, which has a robust mental-health division, and had been placed on suicide watch. He had not yet met with his court-appointed attorney, and it was unclear at time of writing whether his arraignment originally scheduled for Friday would take place. 

According to press reports, the confession was videotaped in Camden, N.J., where Hernandez was first questioned. NYPD detectives were among those present during the interview.

The fact that the confession was videotaped “makes the confession more powerful,” says James Cohen, a defense attorney and a professor at Fordham Law School in New York. “It is less subject to claims [that] the police were feeding the subject information known to the police but also only known to the killer.” 

In missing person’s cases and potential murder cases, the police try to hold onto a piece of evidence that is known only to them and the alleged killer, says Mr. Kaufman. If someone claims to have committed the crime but repeats only information that has appeared in the newspapers, the confession is considered less credible.

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