Pedro Hernandez charged in Etan Patz death

New clue in Patz death

NEW YORK -  

A man arrested in the killing of a 6-year-old who vanished decades ago is expected to make his initial court appearance Friday, 33 years to the day the boy disappeared in New York.

Etan Patz went missing on May 25, 1979, a block from his home in a Manhattan neighborhood.

His disappearance helped spawn a national movement to raise awareness of missing children, which involved a then-novel approach of splashing an image of the child's face across thousands of milk cartons.

Pedro Hernandez, a former Manhattan stock clerk who lived in his neighborhood, was arrested Thursday in connection with the death, police said.

Hernandez allegedly lured the boy to a store with the promise of a soda, choked him and placed his body in the trash about a block and a half away, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly told reporters.

"Detectives believe in the credibility of the statement," Kelly said, referring to the man's earlier confession. Authorities were alerted to the suspect by a tip.

Hernandez, who was 19 at the time, is expected to be charged with second-degree murder, Kelly said. The suspect's initial court appearance will include the district attorney's office formally filing paperwork.

He has no prior criminal record and is the father of a teenage girl, Kelly said.

In the years following Etan's disappearance, Hernandez told a family member and others that he had "done a bad thing" and killed a child in New York, police said.

He voluntarily left New Jersey on Wednesday night with detectives to travel to Manhattan and the building, currently an optical business.

Kelly described the suspect as remorseful.

"The detectives thought it was a feeling of relief on his part," he said.

Other employees of the store were interviewed after Etan disappeared, but not Hernandez., police said.

"I can't tell you why," said Kelly, indicating the case was a crime of opportunity.

The commissioner said it is unlikely police will find Etan's remains.

In her book detailing the investigation, author Lisa Cohen describes the plan Etan had the day he went missing. Prior to his disappearance, according to the book, Patz told his parents that he planned to stop at a store to buy a soda with a dollar he'd earned by helping a neighborhood carpenter.

The carpenter, Othniel Miller, 75, had met Etan the day before and was recently the focus of media attention when investigators announced they were questioning him again.

"Mr. Miller is relieved by these developments, as he was not involved in any way with Etan Patz's disappearance," said Miller's attorney Michael C. Farkas. "At the same time, Mr. Miller is very pleased that those responsible for this heinous crime may be brought to justice, and the Patz family may finally have the closure they deserve."

A separate law enforcement source said Thursday that Hernandez's claims were being treated with "a healthy dose of skepticism." Investigators have not uncovered any forensic evidence linking Hernandez to the case, Kelly added.

Renewed attention over the Patz case started last month when investigators scoured Miller's SoHo basement, where Etan was seen a day before he went missing.

But their search produced no apparent clues.

The tipster contacted authorities months ago after news coverage of their renewed search. That contact, at least in part, prompted investigators to question Hernandez.

A spokeswoman for the Manhattan district attorney's office, which reopened the case in 2010, declined to comment on the recent development.

Etan went missing a block from his home in the Manhattan neighborhood of SoHo. His mother, Julie, learned after her son failed to return home that he hadn't been in classes that day.

The boy was officially declared dead in 2001 as part of a lawsuit filed by his family against a drifter, Jose Antonio Ramos, a convicted child molester acquainted with Etan's babysitter.

A judge found Ramos responsible for the boy's death and ordered him to pay the family $2 million -- money the Patz family has never received.

Though Ramos was considered a key focus of the investigation for years, he has never been charged in the case. He is serving a 20-year prison sentence in Pennsylvania for molesting another boy and is set to be released this year.

President Ronald Reagan named May 25, the day Etan went missing, as National Missing Children's Day.

CNN's Ross Levitt contributed to this report.


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