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Etan Patz Case: Pedro Hernandez, New Jersey Man, Charged With Second-Degree Murder

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NEW YORK, May 25 (Reuters) - A man who police say confessed to strangling Etan Patz was charged with second-degree murder on Friday, 33 years after the 6-year-old boy vanished from his New York neighborhood and soon changed the way the nation responds to missing children.

Pedro Hernandez, 51, who worked as a stock boy in a small food store on the Manhattan SoHo street where Patz was last seen on May 25, 1979, was charged with a single count of second-degree murder, according to court records.

According to a one-sentence charging document, Hernandez told police that he "strangled Etan Patz and placed him inside a plastic bag, thereby causing the death of Etan Patz, on or about May 25, 1979, in the basement of 448 West Broadway."

Patz's highly publicized disappearance prompted President Ronald Reagan to sign into law the Missing Children's Assistance Act in 1984, sparking the start of a non-profit missing children's center and triggering enormous changes in the way police and the public respond to reports of missing children. As a result, Patz was one of the first missing children whose face appeared on a milk carton appealing to the public for information on his whereabouts.

Early Friday, Hernandez was transferred from his jail cell to Bellevue Hospital to ensure medications he was taking were administered properly, said Paul Browne, spokesman for the New York City Police Department. He declined to specify the medications or the illness being treated.

On Thursday, New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said Hernandez had confessed during in a videotaped that he strangled the boy in the store's basement, placed his body in a bag and dumped it in the trash.

Hernandez had been living in Maple Shade, New Jersey, where he lived with his wife and daughter.

The break in the case came a month after the FBI and New York City Police conducted an excavation of a basement in another neighborhood building, which failed to yield clues. It did, however, prompt a tip about Hernandez, who had told family members as far back as 1981 that "he had done a bad thing and killed a child in New York," Kelly said.

His confession continued to draw skepticism from those who have closely followed the case, including author Lisa Cohen, whose book "After Etan" detailed what happened after his parents agreed to let him take his first walk alone to the school bus stop. He never returned.

"There have been hundreds and hundreds of false leads and moments when they know the case was solved - and it wasn't," Cohen said in an interview on CNN early Friday.

Patz told his parents he planned to stop at the store to buy a soda before boarding the bus, and Hernandez now says he lured the boy to the basement with the promise of a free soft drink. (Additional reporting by Dan Burns; Writing by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Anthony Boadle)

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