May 25, 2012 — -- It took exactly 33 years but justice can now be served, prosecutors said this evening at the arraignment of a former bodega worker charged with the 1979 murder of Etan Patz.
Pedro Hernandez, 51, was formally charged today with second degree murder of the 6-year-old Patz, who went missing in his Manhattan neighborhood while on his way to school on May 25, 1979.
Hernandez, who despite a more than three decades-long investigation was never the target of police until this week, was arraigned from a New York City hospital where he was taken earlier this morning after authorities feared he might kill himself.
Appearing in court via closed-circuit television, Hernandez sat at table alongside his lawyer. He wore an orange prison jumpsuit and was flanked by a guard as he sat, slumping with a blank expression while his attorney put into the record that his client was on long term medication and has a history of hallucinations.
Lawyer Harvey Fishbein stated outside of court that no plea was entered pending the psychiatric evaluation of his client.
"It has been 33 years and justice has not been done," said prosecutor Armand Durastanti, who requested Hernandez not receive bail.
Judge Matthew Sciarino ordered Hernandez to return to jail following an evaluation.
New York City police hailed Hernandez's arrest Thursday night, closing a case that has haunted New York for three decades. At 5:30 a.m. this morning, Hernandez was taken under guard to Bellevue Hospital where he was placed on suicide watch.
In a terse five-paragraph criminal complaint filed against Hernandez, prosecutors charge him with Patz's murder.
Detective David Ramirez stated in the complaint that he "is informed by the defendant that defendant strangled Etan Patz and placed him inside a plastic bag, thereby causing the death of Etan Patz."
Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, who reopened the long dormant investigation after his election in 2010, said in a statement, "This is the beginning of the legal process, not the end. There is much investigative and other work ahead, and it will be conducted in a measured and careful manner."
Hernandez has been in police custody since Wednesday and may not have been taking his prescribed medication and appeared suicidal before he was taken to the hospital, criminal justice sources said.
Hernandez's arraignment coincides with the anniversary of Patz's disappearance and National Missing Persons Day, a holiday that spotlights missing children chosen in honor of Patz.
The search for Patz was one of the largest, longest-lasting and most heart-wrenching hunts for a missing child in the country's recent history. His photo was among the first of a missing child to appear on a milk carton.
Hernandez confessed to police that as a 19-year-old bodega stock clerk he lured the boy into his shop's basement with the promise of a soda. There, Hernandez told police, he strangled Patz and stuffed his body in a plastic bag that was thrown into trash elsewhere in the neighborhood. The body was never found.
Hernandez had admitted to family members and friends as early as 1981 that he "done a bad thing and killed a child in New York."
The new focus on the case led one of Hernadez's family members or a friend to alert police that they suspected Hernandez's involvement.
When confronted, New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said Hernandez quickly confessed, even expressing "remorse" and "relief."
Hernandez was taken into custody at his home in Maple Shade, N.J., on Wednesday morning where he lives with his wife and daughter. The apartment is rented by his wife, Rosemary Hernandez, who let her husband move in after he told her that he was dying of cancer.
"We never had a problem with him," Hernandez's brother-in-law, Jose Lopez, told KYW, a CBS station in Philadelphia. "There was never a problem. He was a normal person. Never gave any sign that he did something like that."
Police have named other suspects in the past, but none had ever been arrested or charged.