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Etan suspect charged with murder

A lawyer for a man who police say confessed to choking a six-year old boy to death in a landmark 1979 missing child case said his client was mentally ill and had a history of hallucinations.

Pedro Hernandez, 51, appeared in court via a video link on Friday night, charged with the second-degree murder of Etan Patz. He did not enter a plea and was remanded in custody.

Hernandez was filmed in a conference room at Bellevue Hospital, New York City, where he was admitted after making comments about wanting to kill himself.

Court-appointed lawyer Harvey Fishbein told the judge Hernandez was bipolar and schizophrenic. A judge ordered Hernandez to undergo a psychological examination.

Hernandez was arrested on Thursday after telling police he strangled Etan in 1979, when he was an 18-year-old stock boy at a convenience store where Etan waited for his school bus.

Etan disappeared 33 years ago on May 25 1979, on his two-block walk to his bus stop in Manhattan, in a case that made New York parents afraid to let their children out of their sight and sparked a movement to publicise the cases of missing youngsters.

He was one of the first missing children to be pictured on a milk carton.

Hernandez, who emerged as a suspect just days ago after police received a tip-off, told investigators that he lured the boy into the store, then led him to the basement, choked him and put his body in a bag with some rubbish about a street away, police said.

Authorities never found a body and Hernandez's confession put investigators in the unusual position of bringing the case to court before they had amassed any physical evidence or had time to fully corroborate his story or investigate his psychiatric condition.

Police spokesman Paul Browne said investigators were retracing dustcart routes from the late 1970s and deciding whether to search landfill sites for the boy's remains. Crime scene investigators also arrived at the building in Manhattan's SoHo section that once held the bodega where Hernandez worked. Authorities were considering excavating the basement for evidence.

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