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April 29, 2015

Jury can't reach verdict on Maple Shade man in Patz case

NEW YORK - Jurors in the trial of a Maple Shade man accused of kidnapping and murdering 6-year-old Etan Patz in New York in 1979 said on Wednesday they could not reach a verdict, but a judge ordered them to keep trying.

The New York City boy's 1979 disappearance brought national attention to the issue of missing and abducted children.

Pedro Hernandez, 54, had confessed to police in 2012 that he choked 6-year-old Patz, stuffed him in a box and left him in a New York alley. But his defense attorneys had argued that Hernandez is mentally ill and his confession was coerced by police.

The jury in its 11th day of deliberations at state Supreme Court in Manhattan sent a note to Justice Maxwell Wiley.

"We the jury after 10 days of deliberation, want the court to know that we are unable to reach a unanimous decision," the note read.

Wiley ordered the panel to keep working.

Patz vanished on May 25, 1979 as he walked alone for the first time to a school bus stop in his Manhattan neighborhood.

His disappearance brought attention to the issue of missing and abducted children, and his picture was one of the first to appear on milk cartons.

The crime long haunted New Yorkers who can recall the massive search for the missing blond boy, who was never found. He was declared dead in 2001.

Hernandez's defense attorneys put the blame on Jose Ramos, who dated a Patz family babysitter and was long considered the prime suspect.

Ramos is serving a prison term after being convicted of sexually abusing boys.

Hernandez was arrested in 2012 on a tip that he had confessed to a church prayer group in New Jersey.

In a confession videotaped by police, he described luring Patz into the deli where he worked, taking him to the basement and strangling him.

The 12-member jury was clearly struggling to reach a unanimous decision in the case, which hinged on the now-disputed confession. The panel asked to rehear reams of testimony from the trial, which started in late January.

On Wednesday, the jury asked Justice Wiley for a readback of the lawyers' closing arguments, which took nearly two full days in court. But before the judge could tell the jury he would grant the request, the panel sent out a note saying it was deadlocked.

The defense, upon hearing the jury was hung, made a motion for a mistrial, which the judge denied.

Defense attorney Alice Fontier told the court that ordering the jury to keep deliberating is "inherently coercive" and any continuation of proceedings would be over the strenuous objections of the defense.

If the jury remains unable to reach a verdict and a mistrial is declared, it will be up to the prosecution to decide whether to retry the case.