NEW YORK – Manhattan's top prosecutor said Thursday that it's too soon to discuss how sure he is that a former stock clerk is indeed the killer of a boy who vanished in 1979, a case that flummoxed investigators until police said the suspect confessed last week.
District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. also declined to comment on whether Pedro Hernandez's arrest clears two other men who had been eyed in the disappearance of Etan Patz, who became one of the first missing children who appeared on a milk carton.
Hernandez was charged last week with murder after police said he confessed to strangling Etan, who was 6 when he disappeared while walking to his school bus stop alone for the first time. Hernandez then worked at a nearby convenience store.
Hernandez, 51, hasn't entered a plea. His lawyer, Harvey Fishbein, has said Hernandez is schizophrenic and bipolar and has had hallucinations. He remained in a psychiatric hospital jail ward Thursday.
Asked after an unrelated press conference how confident he was in Hernandez' guilt, Vance declined to answer.
"Not because I'm afraid to answer it — just because it's premature at this time," he said.
For now, he said, prosecutors "continue to work on this case in a measured, thoughtful, impartial manner ... with an enormous amount of resources, care and attention."
Although there is as yet no physical evidence against Hernandez, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly has said investigators found Hernandez's admission specific enough to be credible. Hernandez also had told acquaintances years ago about having killed a child in New York City, the commissioner said; a sister of Hernandez's has said she heard he had made such remarks at a prayer group.
Police met Hernandez as they searched the neighborhood for Etan in 1979, but they didn't consider him a suspect until a tipster contacted them within the last month.
In 2004, a civil court declared another man responsible for Etan's death: a convicted and imprisoned child molester who disobeyed a judge's orders to answer depositions questions under oath. Then last month, investigators dug up a Manhattan basement linked to a handyman. Neither was charged.
Etan's parents have declined to comment on Hernandez's arrest.
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