Thursday, May 14, 2015

Pedro Hernandez: New York; Aftermath (5); Robert McKenna, a former police officer working the Etan Patz crime scene, supports a key "doubt" raised by lone holdout juror Adam Sirois - and tells Propublica, "I salute Adam Sirois. He prevented what would've been a horrible miscarriage of justice." (Must, Must Read. HL);

STORY: "Juror and former officer raise doubt about Patz prosecution," by reporter Joaquin Sapien, published by Propublica on May 14, 2105.

SUB-HEADING: "On a question that worried a juror in the Etan Patz murder case, a former cop offers his view."

PHOTO CAPTION:  "Jurors in the case say deliberations included lengthy discussion of the bodega where Pedro Hernandez says he strangled Etan Patz, and whether it had been properly searched. The bodega closed long ago, but a memorial for the boy was left in front of the SoHo building in question."

 GIST: The disappearance of a 6-year-old New York boy has mystified and frustrated police for decades. The trial of his alleged killer ended with a hung jury, a dozen people who spent 18 days unsuccessfully trying to reach unanimity. Jurors in the case say deliberations included lengthy discussion of the bodega where Pedro Hernandez says he strangled Etan Patz, and whether it had been properly searched. The bodega closed long ago, but a memorial for the boy was left in front of the SoHo building in question. Robert McKenna spent more than two decades with the New York City Police Department, but he has no trouble remembering the days and nights of late May 1979, when much of the city was consumed by the disappearance of a 6-year-old Manhattan boy who had gone missing while headed to school alone for the first time. McKenna, then a patrol officer, was one of a small army of officers knocking on doors in the SoHo neighborhood, shining flashlights behind dumpsters, questioning potential witnesses. McKenna said he has particularly vivid memories of the bodega that stood on the corner of Prince Street and West Broadway, where the boy's school bus stop was also located. The police had been told that the boy, Etan Patz, might have stopped at the bodega to buy a soda that morning.........Adam Sirois, the lone holdout juror in favor of acquittal, said the debate about the bodega became heated. "It doesn't add up that they wouldn't have found that bag," Sirois said in an interview with the New York Post. He added, "You almost have to want him to be guilty, in my opinion, to say the police could not have searched the bodega basement. It's right at the bus stop where he was headed. " In an interview Wednesday with ProPublica, Sirois repeated his bafflement. "If you believe that they didn't search the bodega top to bottom, then it's just not rational," he said. McKenna did not testify at the trial. But he had told a version of his account to ProPublica in 2013 and it was included in an extensive examination of the case against Hernandez. ProPublica contacted McKenna after the trial, and after the jurors had begun to detail their deliberations. "I salute Adam Sirois," McKenna said. "He prevented what would've been a horrible miscarriage of justice."........Sirois, in an interview Wednesday, said McKenna's account, if it held up to scrutiny, would have been helpful – at least on the troubling question of whether the bodega basement had been adequately searched. No police account introduced at trial, in testimony or through department records, unequivocally stated the bodega basement had been searched. "That could've changed everything," he said when told of McKenna's account. Sirois said some jurors were troubled that the police records documenting the search for Patz didn't specifically state that the bodega basement had been searched. He said they were unwilling to infer that it would have to have been searched. He said he had pressed hard. The boy's mother, Julie Patz, had testified at the trial that her son had been headed to the bodega. Wouldn't she have insisted the bodega be searched, Sirois said he asked his fellow jurors.........Hernandez, in his confession, said he lured Patz to the basement from the bus stop with the promise of a soda. The basement was accessed by an entrance on the sidewalk outside the bodega. Hernandez said he choked the boy, then packed him, still alive, inside a bag and then a box. He then shouldered the box and walked it several blocks away in the broad daylight of an early May morning. Three decades later, McKenna said he still has a clear sense of how the bodega was run, and he said he is openly skeptical that Hernandez could have done what he said he did. He said the managers of the bodega "saw everything that went on." He claimed the sidewalk entrance to the basement was visible from the register. He said the people who ran the bodega would never have allowed Hernandez to take a boy to the basement. During the trial, the bodega manager, Juan Santana, said the entrance was routinely kept locked and that it was unlikely Hernandez could have gained access. Said McKenna: "Even if he did, he comes back with a bag over his shoulder? Absolutely no way."  Sirois understands McKenna's doubts. The boy's book bag, he said, was actually an open-ended tote bag full of cars and toys. He said Hernandez's description of having flung it on or over the refrigerator in the basement suggested the toys should have fallen out."

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