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The daughter of a man on trial for murder in the 1979 disappearance of 6-year-old Etan Patz testified Monday about her father's unusual behavior in an effort to show that he is mentally ill.
Becky Hernandez, 25, speaking publicly for the first time about the case against her father, Pedro Hernandez, said she wasn't allowed out with friends as a child unless she had a written invitation and two weeks' notice — and her father held her hand crossing the street until she was 14.
The defense is trying to show Pedro Hernandez's 2012 confession to choking the boy is a delusion.
Becky Hernandez said her father would clean their Maple Shade, New Jersey, home profusely and cook dinner starting at 2 a.m. — the same food every night: chicken, rice and beans. She also said he saw shadowy figures, a lady in white, and one time said he awoke to find a bald man choking him who then disappeared. She'd come home to find him talking to himself. But the family didn't call doctors.
"We knew he wasn't well, and we didn't want to hurt his feelings," she said. “My mom always taught me that what he sees and what he believes is not what we have to see."
She began crying when asked if she loved her father despite his behavior. "He's protective because he loves me," she said.
Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi-Orbon on cross-examination sought to show Hernandez was strict and abusive and that he still tries to control her from prison.
Etan vanished on his way to school on May 25, 1979. His disappearance helped galvanize the modern-day missing children's movement; his picture was one of the first to appear on a milk carton.
Hernandez made a stunning confession in 2012 to choking Etan in the basement of a convenience store where he worked, after police questioned him on a tip. Over the years, he told a prayer circle, a neighbor and his ex-wife that he had harmed a child in New York. At least five people testified about what he said during the trial.
No body was ever found, and there has been no physical evidence.