At re­trial in 1979 Etan Patz case, the (ex) jury is in — the au­di­ence

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - OBITUARIES - By Jen­nifer Peltz

They spent four emo­tion­ally drain­ing, in­con­clu­sive months on jury duty in one of Amer­ica’s most no­to­ri­ous miss­ingchild cases.

But over a year after hit­ting a dead­lock, some ju­rors now feel a duty not to let it go.

Eight for­mer ju­rors and al­ter­nates were in the au­di­ence of a New York court­room last week to lis­ten, again, to open­ing state­ments in the re­trial of Pe­dro Her­nan­dez in the 1979 dis­ap­pear­ance of Etan Patz, a 6-year-old boy who van­ished on his morn­ing walk to his school bus stop.

Some ex-ju­rors have shown up for even rou­tine court hear­ings. A half­dozen held a re­mem­brance for Etan in his Man­hat­tan neigh­bor­hood last year. A hand­ful plan to at­tend as much of the re­trial as they can.

“We ate, drank, slept this trial” for months, al­ter­nate C.J. Holm said as she headed to court one day.

“It re­ally got un­der our skin, and we want to see it through.”

Their quest is an un­con­ven­tional mea­sure of the im­pact of a case that has al­ready had plenty. Etan’s dis­ap­pear­ance fu­eled a cul­tural shift to­ward more pro­tec­tive par­ent­ing and helped spur law en­force­ment ad­vances in track­ing van­ished chil­dren. The an­niver­sary is now Na­tional Miss­ing Chil­dren’s Day.

Sus­pect Pe­dro Her­nan­dez didn’t come to light un­til 2012, when he con­fessed. His de­fense says he’s men­tally ill and only imag­ined com­mit­ting the crime.

Sev­eral for­mer ju­rors say they’re back be­cause they feel con­nected to a case they know in such de­tail and are frus­trated they couldn’t reach a ver­dict after 18 days of de­lib­er­a­tion. Many want show sup­port for Etan’s fam­ily.

“We, emo­tion­ally, do have to be here,” says ex-ju­ror Joan Brooks, who works in fi­nance.

But with for­mer ju­rors from both sides of the 11-1 dead­lock turn­ing up, the re­trial is also re-air­ing their con­trast­ing takes on the case. The two sides sit on op­po­site sides of the Man­hat­tan court­room and some­times make se­quen­tial stops be­fore re­porters in the hall­way.

Out­side court, mem­bers of the ma­jor­ity stress that 11 peo­ple found enough ev­i­dence to con­vict. “We felt very strongly then, and we feel strongly now, that it’s a very strong case,” for­mer ju­ror Cyn­thia Cueto said.

Adam Sirois, the lone hold­out, still feels just as strongly that there’s rea­son­able doubt about Her­nan­dez’s guilt, and he’s de­ter­mined to show up and re­cap his views if his for­mer co­horts are do­ing the same.

“If any­thing, I’ve got­ten stronger in the con­vic­tion that what I did was the right thing to do in this case,” said Sirois, whose po­si­tion some fel­low ju­rors por­trayed — wrongly, he says — as at­ten­tion-seek­ing. “... It’s just very per­sonal to me now.”

Ju­rors have oc­ca­sion­ally re­mained en­gaged in cases after mis­tri­als be­fore, though ex­perts say it seems un­usual to see ex-ju­rors from both sides of a dead­lock.

One New York ex-ju­ror, who got men­ac­ing mes­sages that spurred a mis­trial in a lar­ceny case against two for­mer top Tyco In­ter­na­tional Ltd. ex­ec­u­tives, at­tended key days in the 2005 re­trial that led to their con­vic­tion. After a dead­lock in Pitts­burgh celebrity pathol­o­gist Dr. Cyril Wecht’s 2008 fraud trial, five proac­quit­tal ju­rors so­cial­ized with him and planned to at­tend his re­trial, un­til pros­e­cu­tors dropped the case.

Some­times, “ju­rors who don’t reach a ver­dict feel in­com­plete,” says Shari Sei­d­man Di­a­mond, a North­west­ern Univer­sity Pritzker School of Law pro­fes­sor who stud­ies ju­ries.

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