NEW YORK — A man charged with murder decades after one of the nation's most infamous child disappearances can be brought to trial, a judge ruled Wednesday, turning down the man's claim that the case is too thin to proceed.
In a case that hinges on a disputed confession, Manhattan state Supreme Court Justice Maxwell Wiley said in a written ruling that there is enough evidence to sustain the charges against Pedro Hernandez of Maple Shade, N.J. He is accused of killing 6-year-old Etan Patz, last seen walking to his Manhattan school bus stop in 1979.
The ruling propels the case toward a trial that would probably revolve around whether Hernandez's confession amounts to a mentally ill man's imaginings, as his defense says.
"We're prepared to move forward to trial and be able to show … that Pedro Hernandez had nothing to do with whatever happened to Etan Patz back in 1979," defense lawyer Harvey Fishbein said after court.
Etan's disappearance, which helped impel a movement to publicize the cases of missing children, vexed investigators through decades of fizzled leads and inconclusive findings.
Authorities say they have finally found the culprit in Hernandez, who confessed after his arrest last year and had made incriminating remarks to acquaintances years before. But his lawyer has said that Hernandez is schizophrenic and bipolar, and that his admission was false, peppered with questionable claims and made after almost seven hours of police questioning.