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