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Patz suspect's mental illness history could be key to case

By Jennifer Peltz

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, May 29 2012 9:38 p.m. MDT

Norma Hernandez answers a question as she stands in the doorway of her home in Camden, N.J., Tuesday, May 29, 2012. Hernandez says that she went to police in the 1980s with concerns that her brother Pedro Hernandez may have killed someone, but the police never followed-up with her. Pedro Hernandez confessed last week to the killing of 6-year-old Etan Patz in 1979, and is now charged with his murder. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

Associated Press

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NEW YORK — Pedro Hernandez has confessed to killing the 6-year-old boy at the heart of one of the nation's most prominent missing-child cases, police say. And he has schizophrenia and a history of hallucinations, his lawyer says.

Court-appointed doctors are still assessing Hernandez's mental state, and it's unclear how much it will factor in the case charging him with the 1979 murder of young Etan Patz.

But if his psychiatric record becomes an issue, he'll encounter a justice system that seeks to strike a balance between recognizing mental illness and holding people responsible for their actions — a balance that has shifted back and forth over more than a century and a half.

Hernandez, 51, remained in a psychiatric hospital Tuesday as authorities continued trying to flesh out his startling admission in a case that galvanized the movement to publicize the problem of missing children. Meanwhile, Etan's father made clear that the attention to the case since Hernandez's arrest last week had taken a toll, telling reporters they had "managed to make a difficult situation even worse."

"It is past time for you to leave me, my family and my neighbors alone," Stan Patz said in a note posted on his apartment building's door.

Police encountered Hernandez, who worked in a nearby convenience store, shortly after Etan vanished on his way to school on May 25, 1979. But investigators never considered Hernandez a suspect until a tipster pointed them his way this month, saying he had made incriminating statements. He responded with an emotional and gruesome confession: He said he strangled the boy, hid his body in a bag and a box and dumped it near some trash, police said.

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