A man who was a teenage store clerk when 6-year-old Etan Patz vanished 33 years ago was indicted on murder charges Wednesday, six months after his confession stunned Etan’s parents and some investigators who had blamed a convicted pedophile for the boy’s disappearance.
The indictment was announced by Harvey Fishbein, the attorney for Pedro Hernandez, 51, of Maple Shade, N.J.
Fishbein said Hernandez was charged with second-degree murder for allegedly strangling Etan after luring him from the sidewalk into the basement of the bodega where he worked in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood.
Prosecutors did not immediately announce the charges.
Hernandez was never apparently on investigators’ radar as they combed the city after Etan disappeared on May 25, 1979. Etan had left his family’s apartment for the short walk to his school bus early that morning, the first time he had been allowed to walk alone. He never made it to the bus, and his body was not found. The wide-eyed little boy’s face became the first to be featured on milk cartons as the case galvanized efforts to heighten attention nationwide to the issue of missing children.
Etan’s parents, Stan and Julie Patz, never left the apartment in which the family lived, in hopes Etan would return. They eventually became convinced, along with some investigators, that Jose Antonio Ramos, a convicted pedophile serving time on an unrelated case in Pennsylvania, was responsible for Etan's death. In 2001, they had Etan declared legally dead. In 2004, a Manhattan civil judge declared Ramos guilty, although he denied it.