The Etan Patz trial has gotten a lot of national coverage. If you haven’t followed it, Etan Patz was a 6 year old child who disapeared from his neighborhood in New York City in 1979. He is probably the best-known missing child in NY, possibly in the country (his disappearance helped spark the missing children’s movement, including ways to track missing children like the milk-carton campaigns we’re all familiar with; Etan was the first missing child to be pictured on the side of a milk carton). The Manhattan District Attorney re-opened the unsolved case in 2010 and in 2012 the police announced they had someone in custody who had confessed. That man, Pedro Hernandez, had been an 18 year old convenience store worker in a neighborhood bodega at the time of Patz’s disappearance; Hernandez later said he threw Patz’s remains into the garbage. On the other hand, Hernandez was pretty unquestionably mentally ill (his lawyer stated that Hernandez was diagnosed with schizotypal personality disorder which includes hallucinations; also his IQ is around 70 – which is at the border of intellectual disability, aka mental retardation).
The case went to trial (which was covered very publicly, so if you followed it, forgive the brief summary above for the uninitiated) and the trial ended in mistrial when the jury hung 11-1. That’s right, a real-life modern-day 12 Angry Men moment. That one holdout juror, Adam Sirois, gave the New York Post an interview explaining the trial and why he wasn’t convinced beyond a reasonable doubt. It’s certainly worth a read. Some notable excerpts:
“I knew that I would start from the presumption of innocence. I knew that because we are told we should start from that presumption…For me, there were moments – different ways, different periods of time – when I could have gone either way. That’s the whole point. Then you go into deliberations.”
“But I have to say – several jurors came in with an opposite approach, and came in thinking he was guilty right off the bat, although they don’t want to say that sometimes. But it was evident in the way they were speaking.”
This is my biggest fear as a defense attorney – that some people either don’t get or disregard the presumption of innocence and start out with a “he did it” mentality. We talk about it and talk about it, but obviously some people sneak through the process not getting it or with an agenda to “make someone pay for the crime” regardless of whether they’re actually convinced beyond a reasonable doubt.
“I didn’t ever change my vote – that’s true. I’m not absolutely sure that it’s not Pedro Hernandez. But that’s how our legal system works. I’m not sure that was clear to some of the jurors. It has to go beyond a reasonable doubt. Either their threshold for a reasonable doubt is lower than mind, or they didn’t exactly get that point. I don’t mean all of them, but I think there were one or two who I don’t think understood some of the charges we got from the judge.”
“I didn’t feel the evidence was solid enough to vote guilty.”
“It’s a horrible loss of Etan for the family but it would be a travesty also if I didn’t go with my conscience on this.”