The trial of Pedro Hernandez was an attempt by the Manhattan District Attorney's Office to answer the question, what happened to Etan Patz? Etan was never found after his mom watched him walk down the street to catch the school bus in 1979, the last time he was ever seen.
The scientific and physical evidence was virtually non-existent, and the jurors came down to the confession given by Pedro Hernandez and the issue of third party guilt. In the end, one lone juror just could not accept that the confession was reliable, and was bothered by the fact that the original suspect, Jose A. Ramos, a convicted child molester, had been the unsuccessful police target for years.
Defense counsel fought hard against that confession, and hammered the prosecution for pressuring a man with mental health issues to confess when they couldn't tie in the more likely killer. And in addition, he raised the evidentiary concept of third party guilt, discussed by the New York Court of Appeals in the seminal case of People v. Primo.
Floating in my head during the trial were images of the notorious Central Park Jogger trial - where five young boys were pressured to confess to the rape and assault of a woman jogging during the Puerto Rican Day parade. Jurors in that case trusted the prosecution, trusted the confessions, despite there being no eyewitnesses nor any physical evidence connecting the kids to the crime. Eerily similar to this trial. Like this trial, publicity was rampant and sympathy for the victim overwhelming.
And years later, the true criminal confessed - a convicted rapist, who found Jesus while doing upstate time for a different rape. The five kids whose lives had been ruined (the oldest of them was only 15) were briefly in the news, and a juror for the case expressed "outrage" that he had been fooled by the D.A.'s office.
What's different in this case? Nothing as far as the confession is concerned. However, in this case there was a different suspect and target of the investigation for years. (Unlike the man who finally confessed in the Central Park Jogger trial - who was not known to police before the trial.) One juror was able to withstand the publicity and sympathy, and it was the evidentiary use of "third party guilt" that strengthened that juror's resolve.
The concept of "third party guilt" is a powerful evidentiary weapon, and a good trial lawyer needs to know the rules for when it can be used and have the skill for how to use it. You need to get the evidence before the jury (frequently a chore in itself) and use it persuasively. When used masterfully, it can be the catalyst for a full acquittal. Especially in a notorious publicity case, a trial lawyer needs to have the right stuff. Here at TSI, we will work with you to make sure you have the right stuff!