NEW YORK (AP) — Psychologists examined a man accused in one of New York City's most notorious missing child cases as authorities prepared to arraign him Friday in the case of Etan Patz, a 6-year-old boy who disappeared exactly 33 years ago on a date now recognized as National Missing Children's Day.
After decades of inconclusive clues and stalled hopes, Pedro Hernandez, a former convenience-store stock clerk, was arrested Thursday on a charge of murdering Etan, one of the first missing children ever to appear on a milk carton.
The boy vanished on a two-block walk to his school bus stop in Manhattan. Hernandez, who was 18 at the time, told investigators this week that he lured the little boy into the shop with the promise of a soda, then led him to the basement, choked him and put his body in a bag with some trash about a block away. Authorities never found a body.
Hernandez, now 51 and living in Maple Shade, N.J., was scheduled to appear in court for the first time later Friday. His court-appointed lawyer, Harvey Fishbein, arrived at the courthouse late in the morning and declined to comment, saying he hadn't met with his client yet.
He asked reporters to be respectful of some of Hernandez's relatives assembled at the courthouse, including his wife, daughter and another man, who huddled together on a wooden bench, turning away interview requests for more than an hour.
"It's a tough day. The family is upset. Please give them some space," Fishbein said.
Police said Hernandez was taken to a secure wing at Bellevue Hospital early Friday to get medication for an existing health problem. While he was there, psychologists questioned him about his mental state, then cleared him to return to a regular holding area. Police wouldn't disclose the existing condition.
The first court proceedings were to unfold even as investigators were still working to corroborate what they said was an emotional, surprise confession by Hernandez, who emerged as a suspect in the decades-old case just days ago.
Crime-scene investigators arrived Friday morning at the building in Manhattan's fashionable SoHo section that once held the bodega where Hernandez briefly worked, and where police said the boy was killed.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said Friday that investigators had yet to determine any motive for the slaying, but authorities say they have a detailed, signed confession, as well as accounts of incriminating remarks Hernandez made to others.
Etan Patz disappeared on May 25, 1979, after his parents, Stan and Julie Patz, allowed him to walk the two blocks to his school bus stop for the first time. The stop was adjacent to the neighborhood bodega where Hernandez worked, police said.
The boy never made it onto the bus. His disappearance sparked a massive search, but no trace of him was ever found.
Hernandez wasn't initially questioned like other workers at the bodega and moved to New Jersey not long after the killing, Kelly said.
But the commissioner said Hernandez had told a relative and others, as far back as 1981, that he had "done something bad" and killed an unnamed child in New York City. He emerged as a suspect after a tipster contact police, following news reports about a fruitless search for the boy's remains last month in a basement near the Patz family home.
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