Jurors in the murder trial surrounding the disappearance of 6-year-old Etan Patz in 1979 said Wednesday they were deadlocked, but the judge told them to keep deliberating.
After 10 days of deliberating, the jury sent a midday note saying it couldn't reach a unanimous decision in the trial of Pedro Hernandez. He's accused of kidnapping and killing a boy whose disappearance helped galvanize a national movement to find missing children. Etan was among the first ever featured on a milk carton.
The defense argued for a mistrial, saying it was obvious the jury was hung. Asking it to continue is inherently coercive, said lawyer Alice Fontier.
The judge denied the defense request and told jurors to keep deliberating.
"Given the nature of this case, I don't think you've been considering this case long enough to conclude that you cannot reach a verdict," state Supreme Court Justice Maxwell Wiley told the weary-looking jurors.
He noted that with testimony readbacks and an afternoon start on the first day, they hadn't been discussing the case for a full 10 days.
"It's not uncommon for a jury to have difficulty reaching a unanimous verdict in any case," he noted, praising the jurors' work so far.
When jurors say they're deadlocked, it's common for judges — at least the first time — to send them back to keep going. Defense lawyers often object, saying that that amounts to pressure on jurors to reach a verdict.
"They've reached a dead end," one of Hernandez's lawyers, Harvey Fishbein, said outside court. "The fact that they can't render a verdict, at this point, tells me they cannot do it."
Prosecutors haven't commented outside court.
Before sending their deadlock note, jurors had asked to have both sides' summations read back, an unusual request. The judge asked them to clarify whether they still wanted to rehear the closing arguments.
Etan's parents helped shepherd in an era of law enforcement advances that make it easier to track missing children and communicate between agencies. They were at the White House when Ronald Reagan named May 25 National Missing Children's Day.
The case baffled authorities for decades — and then Hernandez made a surprise confession in 2012. He told authorities he choked Etan in the basement of a convenience store where he worked and dumped the body a few blocks away.
Acquaintances and relatives testified that Hernandez had told them in the 1980s he'd killed an unnamed child in New York. But prosecutors had no physical evidence linking Hernandez to the crime. Etan's body was never found.
Defense attorneys suggested another man had committed the crime and said Hernandez was mentally ill.