The man who told police that he killed six-year-old Etan Patz in 1979 was sentenced to 25 years in prison on Tuesday.
The sentencing of Pedro Hernandez, 56, by a New York City judge brought the infamous cold case to a close after 38 years, but did not bring peace to the murdered child’s parents.
“Pedro Hernandez, after all these years, we finally know what dark secret you had locked in your heart,” his father, Stan Patz said, according to ABC News. “I will never forgive you. The god you pray to will never forgive you. You are the monster in your nightmares.”
After going missing on May 25, 1979, while walking to his school bus stop in the SoHo neighborhood of Lower Manhattan, Patz became the subject of the first “photo on a milk carton” campaign for missing children. In 1983, President Ronald Reagan designated May 25 — the anniversary of Etan’s disappearance — as National Missing Children’s Day in the United States.
Patz’s parents, Stan and Julie, never gave up hope that the killer would be brought to justice, refusing to ever move or change their phone number
Hernandez, who was an 18-year-old convenience worker when Etan vanished, was tracked down in 2012 via a tip from his brother-in-law. He later confessed to luring the boy into a bodega with the promise of a cold soda and then grabbing him by the neck and choking him to death, saying he stuffed the body into a box and dumped it in a nearby alley, according to NBC News. However, his defense attorneys argued the confession was inadmissible as it was made by a mentally ill man.
Etan’s body has never been found and no scientific evidence has linked Hernandez to the crime. His first trial ended with a mistrial following 18 days of deliberations, while it took a second jury nine days to find him guilty of felony murder and kidnapping on Feb. 14, 2017.
“We, as New Yorkers and as a community of families all over the United States, were also changed forever,” Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance said in a statement following the sentencing. “Through this painful and utterly horrific real-life story, we came to realize how easily our children could disappear, ripped away from us right in our own neighborhoods.
“When a child is murdered, both a family and a community are fractured. For parents, it is a pain so profound that it has been described as a prolonged waking nightmare,” Vance continued. “Today, the living embodiment of that nightmare — Pedro Hernandez, the person that a jury unanimously convicted of killing Etan Patz 38 years ago — is being sent to prison for the maximum sentence possible.
“The conviction and sentencing of Pedro Hernandez will never calm the anxieties of a parent whose child is late from school, or who wanders off during a visit to the park. But today’s outcome should reassure us all in one crucial respect: it should reaffirm our faith in our institutions of justice.”