Judge will decide whether confession tapes will be allowed at trial in missing NYC boy case

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FILE - In this Nov. 15, 2012 file photo, Pedro Hernandez, right, appears in Manhattan criminal court with his attorney Harvey Fishbein, in New York. Circumstances of Hernandez' confession are set to be scrutinized at a hearing to determine whether his statements are fair game for trial -- a question that rests partly on whether he was mentally capable of waiving his rights. (AP Photo/Louis Lanzano, Pool, File)


NEW YORK — The videotaped confession of a man who admitted killing a 6-year-old boy in 1979 is expected to be played in court as a Manhattan judge determines whether it is fair game for the suspect's murder trial.

The hearing that begins Monday is expected to last several weeks to determine whether Pedro Hernandez's statements are admissible in the case. Hernandez has pleaded not guilty in the death of Etan Patz, who vanished on his way to school. The day he disappeared, May 25, became National Missing Children's Day.

In 2012, police got a lead that brought them to Hernandez, who had worked at a Manhattan corner store near where Etan disappeared.

After agreeing to go to a police station near his home in Maple Shade, New Jersey, he was questioned for about seven hours before detectives advised him of his so-called Miranda rights, the warning often heard in crime dramas. They then recorded him saying he lured Etan into the store with a promise of a soda, suffocated him in the basement, put the body in a bag, stuffed the bag inside a box and left it on the street, authorities have said.

His lawyer, Harvey Fishbein, has said the confession was false. But the upcoming hearing is solely to determine whether the confession can be used in court, not whether the statement itself is true.

A judge will examine the timing of the Miranda warning, an often-disputed legal issue that turns partly on whether a suspect felt free to leave during any questioning before the warning. But the judge also will be asked to decide whether Hernandez made an "intelligent and voluntary waiver of his rights, and what role his psychological status and very low IQ play," Fishbein said.

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