NEW YORK - The man charged with killing a 6-year-old New York City boy who infamously vanished in 1979 pleaded not guilty Wednesday as his lawyer insisted his confession to police was false.
Pedro Hernandez, 51, wore a gray sweat suit and answered "not guilty" at the hearing in the case of Etan Patz, whose disappearance helped spawn the movement to publicize cases of missing children nationwide.
"My client had no motive and no history," defense attorney Harvey Fishbein said outside court.
"There is a serious question as to what happened in May 1979," Fishbein said. "There is no crime scene. There are no witnesses to a crime."
Fishbein also noted that a body was never recovered.
He said that Hernandez confessed falsely after seven hours of questioning by police, and that he is still under medical and psychiatric care.
"My client is not happy that he is in jail," Fishbein said.
The defendant's wife and daughter attended the hearing but did not speak to reporters.
Hernandez was a teenage stock clerk at a convenience store close to the bus stop where Etan was headed when he went missing on his way to school on May 25, 1979.
The disappearance led to an intensive search and garnered huge publicity, and the spotlight on the case has ebbed and flowed over the last three decades. His photo was among the first put on milk cartons, and his case turned May 25 into National Missing Children's Day.
Based on a tip, police this spring approached Hernandez, now a married father with no criminal record living in Maple Shade. The tip came after federal authorities and police dug up a basement in the neighborhood hoping for clues.
Investigators say Hernandez told them he lured the boy into the store with the promise of a soda. According to police, he said he led the child to the basement, choked him and left his body in a bag of trash.