Remember Etan Patz, the first "child on a milk carton," whose alleged killer was finally arrested last year, more than 30 years after the 6-year-old disappeared? As if 33 years of not knowing wasn't bad enough for his family, they've been delivered another blow today. Accused murderer Pedro Hernandez' attorney has come out to insist that his client is innocent, even though the New Jersey man allegedly confessed to killing the child last fall.
Attorney Harvey Fishbein doesn't think his client should ever have to face accusations of killing little Etan at all. He wants the whole case thrown out.
When are these poor parents going to catch a break?
Fishbein's claims are hardly surprising. He's a defense attorney. Defending his client is what he's getting paid to do. Fishbein has been poking holes in the district attorney's case from the beginning, saying his client's history of mental illness casts doubt on his alleged confession.
But we haven't heard much on the Etan Patz case since Hernandez was indicted on murder charges by a grand jury in November. Now all of a sudden Fishbein is back with a vengeance, and he's asked a judge to throw out the case based on a lack of evidence and the assertion that Hernandez made a "false confession." The lawyer says his client was questioned from 8 a.m. to nearly 3 p.m. before he was read his rights, and says the confession was not voluntary.
Whether it's true or not, this is what defense attorneys do.
But it presents a quirk in our legal system: defendants deserve a fair trial that is supposed to determine guilt or innocence. They can request a jury of their peers or a bench trial, but it's all up to them.
The fact is, alleged criminals get a lot of leeway.
Etan Patz' parents, on the other hand, have no real ground here. They can't demand the case be kept in court, that Hernandez be forced to face a trial, even if that trial would be fair and could still, technically, earn him an innocent verdict.
Is that fair? Is it fair that victims have so little say?
It's a tough call. On the one hand, if our trials system is to be trusted as much as it is, then we have to assume that an innocent defendant would get off. In that sense, why shouldn't families like the Patzes get to push for a trial? Why should a defendant be scared?
On the other hand, as we all know, juries sometimes get it wrong. So do judges. And trials don't happen overnight. They put a burden on a defendant to not only pay an attorney, but also put their life on hold until the trial is over.
It puts us right back at the beginning ... where a guy can confess to a murder and an attorney can still try to get him off, all while two parents face more time not knowing what happened to their 6-year-old.
Our legal system may be the best we can get, but it doesn't mean it's good for families.
Now the Patz family can only hope the judge believes there's enough evidence ... so they can get some answers.
Should Hernandez have to go to trial for the Patz' family's sake or is this something they should have expected?
Image via NYPD