Mental Illness Claim Raised for Man Charged with Murder of Etan Patz

The man who police say confessed to killing 6-year-old Etan Patz was formally charged with second degree murder. The Manhattan District Attorney's office filed the charge a day after Police Commissioner Ray Kelly announced the arrest of Pedro Hernandez.

Pedro Hernandez was arraigned via a video conference from Bellevue Hospital, where he's being held, on Friday.  Police say doctors told them Hernandez had made suicidal statements.

His attorney, Harvey Fishbein, asked for a competency exam to be held at a later date.  Fishbein told the judge his client is bipolar and schizophrenic and known to have hallucinations. 

Wearing an orange jumpsuit, Hernandez, 51, did not speak during the proceedings, which lasted about 4 minutes. 

The prosecutor who appeared in court Friday, Assistant District Attorney Armand Durastanti, said it was "33 years ago today that 6-year-old Etan Patz left his home on Prince Street to catch his school bus. He has not been seen or heard from since. It's been 33 years, and justice has not been done in this case."

Hernandez was remanded without bail.

In the criminal complaint, prosecutors say Hernandez lured Etan into the bodega, strangled him, stuffed his body in a bag and placed it among other trash bags about a block and a half away.

As Fishbein arrived at the courthouse, he asked reporters to be respectful of some of Hernandez's relatives there, including his wife and daughter.

"It's a tough day. The family is very upset. Please give them some space," Fishbein said.

There is no physical evidence or motive linking Hernandez to the crime, police said. He has no criminal record. Because there's little physical evidence, it's likely the case will hinge on whether the confession is admissible in court. Psychologists reportedly examined Hernandez Friday, as authorities prepare to arraign him.

Hernandez's confession put investigators in the unusual position of bringing the case to court before they had amassed any physical evidence or had time to fully corroborate his story or investigate his psychiatric condition.

Police spokesman Paul Browne said investigators were retracing garbage truck routes from the late 1970s and deciding whether to search landfills for the boy's remains, a daunting prospect.

Crime scene investigators also arrived Friday morning at the building in Manhattan's SoHo section that once held the bodega where Hernandez worked. Authorities were considering excavating the basement for evidence.

The details Hernandez offered about the boy's disappearance gave them probable cause to proceed with the arrest, police said. Hernandez confessed to the crime on videotape.

“The detectives believe in the credibility of the statement of Mr. Hernandez,” Kelly said. He added the detectives who questioned Hernandez described him as “remorseful,” and that there was “a feeling of relief” from Hernandez.

In SoHo, Etan's father, Stanley Patz, avoided journalists gathered outside the family's Manhattan apartment, the same one the family was living in when his son vanished.

Chuck Dean, a neighbor of Hernandez in Maple Shade, N.J., and former cop, said he was stunned to find out that the man who kept to himself and was quiet was a suspect in a murder.

"He was very quiet," Dean said. "He didn't say much of anything. Never really had a conversation with him for three years. He never said a word. The only time he came out of the house was to sit in that chair and have a cigarette."

The Rev. George Bowen Jr., pastor at Hernandez's church in Moorestown, N.J., said he attended services regularly.

"I would judge him to be shy and maybe timid. He never got involved in anything," Bowen said.

He said Hernandez's wife and daughter went to see him Thursday morning after he was taken into police custody.

"They were just crying their eyes out," Bowen said. "They were broken up. They were wrecked. It was horrible. They didn't know what they were going to do."

Janet Babin, Bob Hennelly, Tom McDonald at WHYY and the Associated Press contributed reporting.