Etan Patz's Accused Killer Will Plead Not Guilty, Lawyer Says

PHOTO: Pedro Hernandez, seen in this May 2012 photo, is being charged in the disappearance of Etan Patz.
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The accused murderer of Etan Patz had 90 seconds in court today during which his attorney said Pedro Hernandez was fit for trial and declared outside of court that Hernandez would plead not guilty.

Hernandez was indicted Wednesday on two counts of second degree murder and one count of kidnapping in the first degree. The indictment is based largely on his confession earlier this year.

Despite the confession, Hernandez's lawyer Harvey Fishbein said after the hearing, "My client will plead not guilty."

"The problem is people do confess to things they didn't do and it's a scientific fact," the lawyer said.

"This trial will take time and it will take money... This case will not tell the world what happened to Etan Patz," he added.

Today's hearing took part in a second floor courtroom of Manhattan State Supreme Court known as "Part F."

It is a courtroom with tall ceilings, a worn linoleum floor, and dusty windows. Its walls are a mix of wood paneling, plaster and cinderblock painted brown for walls.

Its 16 pews were filled with a mix of suspects, reporters, and attorneys who spent the first part of the morning negotiating plea deals for 10 day jail sentences, community service and amid admonishments for silence and the silencing of cell phones.

Hernandez wore gray sweat pants and a gray T-shirt. His attorney stood beside him as he answered Judge Anthony Ferrara's questions on the confirmation of mental competence.

The judge acknowledged the defense's willingness to go forward but deferred any confirmation of the defendent's fitness until he could appear before a state Supreme Court judge, a routine practice.

The prosecution will focus on videotaped statement in which Hernandez admits killing Patz and after confessing to the crime kneels to pray with detectives, tears in his eyes.

The case, open since 1979, has been one fraught with controversy since its inception on May 24, 1979 when Patz, wearing his Eastern Airline Future Pilot hat, was abducted on his way to the bus stop, the first day he made that walk alone.

While Hernandez was never a suspect, Patz's parents for a brief time were and many important leads were missed or stumbled over.

By 1985 when Assistant U.S. Attorney Stuart GraBois requested the case from then Manhattan U.S. Attorney Rudy Giuliani, the case was dormant and in the hands of the New York City Police Department Missing Persons Unit.

GraBois conducted a wide ranging probe that left few if any stones unturned and finally targeted Jose Ramos as a suspect. Ramos, never indicted in the Patz case, was convicted of sexually assaulting two young boys in a Pennsylvania prosecution.

Recently paroled after 29 years in jail, he was promptly re-arrested for running afoul of the Megan's Law sex offender requirements to properly register an address where he would live upon release.

He now faces another stretch of prison time should those charges be upheld.

GraBois meanwhile faces the likelihood of being called as a witness by the defense who will point to his investigation of Ramos, a partial confession by Ramos and other information in an effort to cast reasonable doubt upon the possibility of Hernandez committing the crime.

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, with no physical evidence or witness in his arsenal, faces a tough courtroom battle, numerous persons familiar with the case said.

The Hernandez proceeding took about 90 seconds, speedy even for this court part where the story of the intended speed of appearances is told by the furniture before the bench. There are no chairs for the defendent, prosecutor or defense attorney, just a simple podium fitted with a mike and a rack holding dozens of case file folders.

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