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Missing Children

Jury convicts man of decades-old New York child killing

A jury in New York has found a man guilty of kidnapping and murdering six-year-old Etan Patz in 1979. One of the first missing children to appear on a milk carton, Etan's case changed U.S. parenting and law enforcement.

Almost forty years after Etan Patz went missing on the way to his school bus stop, a jury convicted a former convenience store worker for the boy's murder on Tuesday.

Pedro Hernandez (Reuters/L. Lanzano)

Hernandez previously confessed to killing Etan, but his lawyers argued he suffered from poor mental health

Etan vanished on May 25, 1979 near his parents' home in Manhattan while walking alone for the first time to the bus. His parents only realized he was missing after he failed to return from school at the end of the day.

The six-year-old's body was never found and the case became one of New York's greatest unsolved crimes - one that still haunts US parents.

After nine days of deliberations, the jury found Pedro Hernandez, who was 18 years old at the time of the disappearance, guilty of kidnapping in the first degree and murder in the second degree. The 56-year-old is due to be sentenced on February 28.

Etan's father, photographer Stanley Patz, thanked the jury and prosecutors for the verdict. Tuesday's verdict also gave prosecutors a conviction that evaded them in 2015 when a mistrial was declared.

"The Patz family has waited a long time, but we've finally found some measure of justice for our wonderful little boy, Etan," said Patz, choking up.

"I am truly relieved, and I'll tell you, it's about time. It's about time."

Etan became one of the first missing children ever featured on milk cartons in a nationwide search. The anniversary of the child's disappearance has since been designated National Missing Children's Day.

Case that changed a generation

The defense said they would appeal the verdict, arguing that Hernandez' suffered from poor mental health and only had an IQ of 70, placing him within the bottom two percent of the population.

On the 2015 jury, the lone holdout against conviction said the arguments about Hernandez' mental health were a major reason for his stance. Hernandez confessed to police in 2012 after six hours of questioning, saying he killed Etan in the basement of the convenience store and dumped his body in the trash.

USA Prozess im Fall Etan Patz (Reuters/B. McDermid)

"I am truly relieved," said Etan's father, Stanley Patz, after the verdict was announced

Etan's parents pushed to make missing children a national issue, fueling laws to establish a national hotline and making it easier for law enforcement offices to share information about missing children.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) wrote on Twitter that their "hearts go out to Etan's parents, Stanley and Julie, who finally have the answers they've sought for 38 years."

Etan's case also awakened parents to the dangers of child abduction, sparking a generation of hyper-vigilant parenting.

"The disappearance of Etan Patz haunted families in New York and across the country for nearly four decades," said Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance.

"It is my hope that today's verdict provides the Patz family with the closure they so desperately deserve," he added.

rs/kl  (AP, AFP)