A man who the police say confessed to killing the 6-year-old Etan Patz in 1979 — in a case that changed perceptions across the country about how closely children should be watched — was indicted on Wednesday in the boy’s death.
The defendant, Pedro Hernandez, was charged with second-degree murder and first-degree kidnapping. He is scheduled to be arraigned in State Supreme Court in Manhattan on Thursday.
“This indictment is the outcome of a lengthy and deliberative process, involving months of factual investigation and legal analysis,” said Erin M. Duggan, a spokeswoman for the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr.
The trial may still turn out to be challenging. Mr. Hernandez’s lawyer, Harvey Fishbein, has said that Mr. Hernandez has a long history of mental illness. The defense clearly intends to use Mr. Hernandez’s mental health history to raise doubts about the reliability of his confession.
“The indictment is based solely on statements allegedly made by my client, who has, in the past, been repeatedly diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia, and who has, over the last six months, been found to suffer from schizotypal personality disorder, which is characterized by, among other things, unusual perceptual experiences, commonly referred to as hallucinations,” Mr. Fishbein said in a statement released on Wednesday.
Mr. Fishbein added that Mr. Hernandez had an intelligence quotient in the “borderline-to-mild mental-retardation range.”
Prosecutors reviewed the 20 years’ worth of medical records that Mr. Fishbein supplied, as well as other records. They were confident that the confession was not the result of delusional thinking and that it would stand up at trial.
“We believe the evidence that Mr. Hernandez killed Etan Patz to be credible and persuasive, and that his statements are not the product of any mental illness,” Ms. Duggan said. “The grand jury has found sufficient evidence to charge the defendant, and this is a case that we believe should be presented to a jury at trial.”
The court case against Mr. Hernandez, 51, had been delayed since his arrest in May to allow further investigation. It is not clear whether the months since then have yielded any additional evidence to corroborate his confession in the 33-year-old case. The law requires only to prove that a crime was committed, but even that is not a simple matter since Etan’s body has never been found.
“Nothing that occurs in the course of this trial will answer what actually happened to Etan Patz,” Mr. Fishbein said.
Still, law enforcement officials have maintained that the videotaped confession itself is strong and is buttressed by confessions Mr. Hernandez made to others years ago.
Mr. Hernandez was born in Puerto Rico and lived in Maple Shade, N.J., at the time of his arrest. He had been through two troubled marriages and moved around a lot in an unsettled adult life.
He worked as a stock boy in a bodega at 448 West Broadway, which is now an eyewear store, at the time of Etan’s disappearance. On the day Etan disappeared, his parents allowed him to walk alone for the first time from the family’s home on Prince Street in SoHo to a school-bus stop two blocks away on West Broadway.
Mr. Hernandez was working in the store’s basement, which had a separate door to the street. Mr. Hernandez said he lured the boy away from the bus stop with the promise of a soda, strangled him in the bodega’s basement and threw the body out with the trash, police officials have said.
Etan was declared legally dead more than a decade ago so that his parents could sue Jose A. Ramos, a convicted sex offender who was once the primary suspect in the case. Mr. Ramos, 69, is in prison in Pennsylvania. He was never charged in Etan’s death.
Mr. Vance was more circumspect. During an unrelated news conference in early June, Mr. Vance declined to say whether he was confident that Mr. Hernandez was the killer because he said it was premature. “We need to make sure that accountability is levied as to the right person, and under appropriate evidence,” Mr. Vance said.
Mr. Ramos had served the maximum sentence of 27 years after being convicted of sexually abusing a boy. Although he was a suspect in Etan’s disappearance, he was never charged. Mr. Ramos was briefly released from prison last week before being rearrested because the address where he said he would be residing after his release was no longer accurate.