NEW YORK – One of the nation's most infamous missing child cases will head to trial, a judge ruled Wednesday.
According to the decision, there is enough evidence to try the murder case against Pedro Hernández of Maple Shade, N.J., who confessed to the crime of killing Etan Patz but later said he was too mentality ill to answer honestly during his interrogation.
Manhattan state Supreme Court Justice Maxwell Wiley issued a ruling that Hernandez can be tried in 1979 killing.
Authorities say they have finally found the culprit in Hernandez, who confessed after his arrest last year and had made incriminating remarks years before. But his lawyer had said that Hernandez is schizophrenic and bipolar, and that his admission was false, peppered with questionable claims and made after almost seven hours of police questioning.
"No evidence or witnesses have been found corroborating any of the few facts" in Hernandez's confession, defense lawyer Harvey Fishbein wrote last month in papers arguing that the case should be dismissed.
The Manhattan district attorney's office has previously said there's enough proof to sustain the case, Hernandez willingly talked with investigators and prosecutors don't believe his confession is a mentally ill man's imaginings. Under New York law, a person can be convicted based only on a confession, if there's additional evidence that a crime was committed.
"The evidence before the grand jury (that indicted Hernandez) amply supports the offenses charged," prosecutors wrote in a filing this winter.
Etan vanished on May 25, 1979; the anniversary later was named National Missing Children's Day in his memory. He became one of the first vanished children pictured on a milk carton.
Hernandez, 52, was arrested last May after police got a tip that he'd told people years before that he had killed a child in New York City.
Hernandez then told authorities he'd seen Etan at the bus stop, offered the boy a soda to entice him to a corner store where Hernandez worked and choked the boy in the basement. Hernandez said he tossed Etan's book bag behind a basement freezer, put his limp body in a box and left it with some trash about a block away.
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.