NEW YORK (AP) – The ex-wife of a man accused of killing 6-year-old Etan Patz in 1979 testified Monday that she found a torn piece of a missing poster with the boy’s image in a shoebox belonging to her husband, years after he told her he had strangled someone in New York.
Daisy Rivera said that she came across the shoebox in the 1980s, when they were moving back into her parents’ house. She says she noticed the photo of the boy and thought Pedro Hernandez had another child he never told her about.
“He explained to me that child had disappeared within the area where he worked at in New York City,” she said. “And I asked him, disappeared how?”
He told her that he knew the family and that’s why he had the photo. The image was part of Etan’s missing poster.
Before they were married, Hernandez told her in Spanish that he had strangled a “gringo muchacho,” which means “white guy” in English, who had offended him while working in New York, she testified. He didn’t want to lie to her and he wanted forgiveness so he told her, she testified. But Hernandez didn’t elaborate, and Rivera didn’t ask about it, and she didn’t tell police, she said.
Rivera said Monday she didn’t consider whether the photo was linked to the story he told her.
“I never forgot that face,” she said.
Hernandez was a teenage stock clerk at a convenience store a few blocks from where Etan was last seen on his way to school on May 25, 1979. He moved back to New Jersey shortly after and was never considered a suspect until 2012, when a relative called police with a tip. Hernandez confessed to choking the boy and tossing his body with curbside trash. He has since pleaded not guilty. His attorneys say his confession is fiction.
The two met when Rivera was 16, after Hernandez moved back to New Jersey from New York. They got married after she became pregnant and have two children together, Peter, 31, and Natalie, 30. They divorced more than two decades ago and had a contentious relationship, she testified.
Hernandez’s attorney, Alice Fontier, sought to show that Rivera was making up the story about the photo, because there was no record of her telling authorities about it when she was initially questioned. She also sought to show Rivera was not reliable, because she had been arrested on a charge of deceiving welfare authorities in an unrelated case. The incident was expunged from her record, she testified.
Prosecutors have not said whether they have the photo. Etan’s body has never been found. His case has stretched decades and continents, and spurred legislation to create better communication among law enforcement agencies to find missing children.
The trial is expected to last three months.