Man gets 25 years in 1979 case of missing boy
NEW YORK — Almost four decades after firstgrader Etan Patz set out for school and ended up at the heart of one of America’s most influential missingchild cases, a former store clerk convicted of killing him was sentenced to at least 25 years in prison.
In a few angry words, Etan’s father condemned the convicted man.
“Pedro Hernandez, after all these years, we finally know what dark secret you had locked in your heart,” Stan Patz said. “I will never forgive you. The god you pray to will never forgive you. You are the monster in your nightmares.”
His wife, Julie Patz, wiped tears from her eyes as she witnessed the culmination of a long quest to hold someone accountable for their son’s disappearance. The case affected police practices, parenting and the nation’s consciousness of missing children.
Hernandez, 56, didn’t look at the Patzes, speak or react as he got the maximum allowable sentence: 25 years to life in prison, meaning he won’t be eligible for parole until he has served the quarter-century.
The lead defense lawyer, Harvey Fishbein, told the court Hernandez wanted to express deep sympathy to the Patzes, but also to say “he’s an innocent man and he had nothing to do with the disappearance of Etan Patz.”
Hernandez was a teenager working at a convenience shop in 6-year-old Etan’s Manhattan neighborhood when the boy vanished in 1979, on the first day he was allowed to walk alone to his school bus stop.
Hernandez, who’s from Maple Shade, N.J., confessed to choking Etan. But his lawyers have said he’s mentally ill and his confession was false, and they vowed to appeal his conviction.
Etan was among the first missing children pictured on milk cartons. His case contributed to an era of fear among American families, making anxious parents more protective of kids who many once allowed to roam and play unsupervised in their neighborhoods.
The Patzes’ advocacy helped to establish a national missing-children hotline and to make it easier for law enforcement agencies to share information about such cases. The May 25 anniversary of Etan’s disappearance became National Missing Children’s Day.