Jury selection begins for 1979 New York child murder

Jury selection began on Monday in the New York murder trial of a six-year-old boy who disappeared 35 years ago in one of America's most famous missing child cases.

AFP| Last Updated: Jan 06, 2015, 03:47 AM IST

New York: Jury selection began on Monday in the New York murder trial of a six-year-old boy who disappeared 35 years ago in one of America's most famous missing child cases.

Etan Patz vanished after leaving his parents' Manhattan townhouse to walk alone for the first time to the bus stop to go to school on May 25, 1979.

His parents only realised he was missing when he failed to return home at the end of the day. His body has never been found.

The case became a national cause celebre and awakened millions of Americans to the dangers of child abduction, fuelling a generation of vigilant child rearing by parents frightened to let their offspring out of sight.

Pedro Hernandez, 53, who worked in a nearby grocery store at the time, is on trial for the murder and kidnapping of Etan.

He confessed to police in 2012 to killing the boy, but has since recanted his confession and pleads not guilty.

He sat quietly in the New York state supreme court in Manhattan today, dressed smartly in grey trousers, and a pin-stripped shirt and tie.

When instructed by Judge Maxwell Wiley, he stood without a word and turned to peer blankly at the room of prospective jurors.

Criminal defense attorney Harvey Fishbein says his client suffers from mental illness and has "borderline-to-mild mental retardation."

Legal experts say the prosecutors will have a hard time to prove their case, in a trial which is expected to last into March and possibly April.

Fishbein said 80 witnesses could take the stand, but police are understood to have struggled to find supporting evidence against Hernandez.

Few clues were ever found to Etan's disappearance in the SoHo neighborhood where he lived with his parents and disappeared.

His father was a photographer and the boy was the first missing child to be featured on milk cartons as part of a national search.