Saturday, May 26, 2012

Cold Case Breakthrough or Mental Breakdown?

Police are not fond of unsolved cases.  Particularly cases of murder.  All the more so when children are involved.  They know they've let down public expectations.  Children should be safe in a social environment.  They generally are, but not always.  They're such easy targets, trustful and fairly often good natured about being approached by a stranger.  Taught to be polite and respectful, all the more so.

It's difficult to imagine what kind of hell parents must live through each and every day of their lives with the knowledge that their child disappeared forever on the one day they finally agreed he was 'old enough' at age 6, to walk alone, to school.  Etan Patz simply vanished, never to be seen again on the day his parents decided he could take himself off to school, in 1979.

Now police have a man in custody.  The same man who as a youth of 19, had originally been a suspect in the child's disappearance.  But now, all those years later, at age 51, Pedro Hernandez suddenly decided to confess that he had lured the little boy, strangled him, placed his body in a bag, then a box, and left it, meaning to retrieve it for disposal at a later time.  But the box, he explained had gone.

"An individual now in custody has made statements to NYPD detectives implicating himself in the disappearance and death of Etan Patz 33 years ago", announced police commissioner Raymond Kelly.  There is some possibility that some of Mr. Hernandez's relatives provided "information they knew about him", claimed a police investigator.  "...Family members pointed investigators in his direction."

It would please the public and the police to find a neat and tidy answer to a dreadful and old mystery.  It would represent little comfort to the parents of the little boy, but it would seem finally that justice would have been realized.  The condition of 'closure' said to be so important and comforting to many, would be difficult to achieve without evidence, however.

The most meaningful evidence being, of course, the location, finally, of whatever was left of Etan Patz.
Just as he vanished into thin air as far as his parents, his society and the police understood, his little body, inserted into a bag, and then a box, conveniently also 'vanished'. 

And then it was disclosed by Mr. Hernandez's lawyer, that his quiet, subdued client has a history of mental illness.  Mental illness that includes hallucinations.  People admit to strange things.  They seek to incriminate themselves, to blame themselves, to hold themselves accountable and guilty for all manner of peculiar things.

Being mentally ill means that people do behave peculiarly.  If someone who is mentally ill makes a declaration can it be taken seriously?  It can, to a certain degree, but under the circumstances it can not possibly be seen as definitive.  There must be something substantiating.  And evidence would help a great deal.  There is no evidence.

 There is no discernible motive for Mr. Hernandez as a young man of 19 to have taken the life of a child.  Without motivation, without evidence, with simply the self-implicating admission of a man with a sick mind, precisely what have the police got?  Can Mr. Hernandez be prosecuted in a court of law for a dreadful act he claims to have committed so many years ago with nothing to back his claim?

Tellingly enough, he has been taken to Bellevue Hospital where he has been placed on a suicide watch.
There are now questions being bandied about respecting the alacrity with which police acted in the absence of evidence.  "There was no way we could release the man who had just confessed to having killed Etan Patz", the police department's chief spokesman said.

"It would be unusual, to say the least, to release someone who confessed to a murder."  Such a confession, however, under the peculiar circumstances that have presented themselves, should be taken cautiously, and an appropriate investigation embarked upon.  Due diligence was not observed here, and it does not appear as though there is much to build a case of guilt upon.

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