Two more figures from defendant Pedro Hernandez's past said that he confided in the early 1980s that he had strangled someone in New York City, as testimony continued Monday at the murder trial over the 1979 disappearance of 6-year-old Etan Patz.
Daisy Rivera, Hernandez's first wife, said the disclosure occurred after a prayer meeting in 1982 or 1983 in her parents' living room in Camden, New Jersey, when the two were courting and he said he needed to reveal "something terrible."
"He was somewhere in New York and someone had approached him, he said he was a young man, a white guy, and he had felt violated," she recalled. " . . . It got out of hand and it had ended up that he had put his hands around the neck and he had strangled him. He said that he put him in the Dumpster."
"He cried," she said. "He said he had asked God for forgiveness, and he felt God had forgiven him, but he didn't want there to be any secrets."
Hernandez, 53, of Maple Shade, New Jersey, is charged with killing Etan, whose 1979 disappearance on his way to catch a school bus in SoHo was a notorious mystery for 35 years. Hernandez was a teenager working in a bodega in the neighborhood at the time.
He told police in 2012 that he strangled Etan in the bodega basement, but the defense says it's a fantasy caused by a mental disorder. Last week, three men from a New Jersey prayer group testified that at a 1979 retreat, Hernandez said he abused and killed a boy.
Rivera and Hernandez were married in 1984. During the 15 months they lived together, she said, she found a picture of a boy in a shoe box of his belongings that she realized later was a photo of Etan in an airline pilot's hat torn from his missing child poster.
At the time, she suspected he had a secret child, and confronted him.
"He became nervous," she said. "He explained to me that the child had disappeared in the area where he worked. He said they put posters all around. He said he just took it because he was familiar with the family -- they lived in an apartment near where he worked."
On cross-examination, Rivera said she has had a contentious relationship with Hernandez over child support. She admitted her claim about finding Etan's picture was not in her first statement to police, but insisted she did not make it up after learning of the charges.
Another witness, Mark Pike, Hernandez's one-time best friend from Camden, said he also heard a bizarre story from Hernandez in 1981 or 1982.
"He was working in a supermarket and a kid threw a ball at his throat and he lost it," Pike recalled. "He said he strangled him. He put him in a bag in an alley." When Pike asked for details, he testified, "He said he was a dark kid, and forget about it."
Pike said the two were talking about how tough one of Hernandez's younger brothers was, and he thought it was macho bragging from Hernandez, who was slight and not athletic.
"I didn't believe it at the time," he said.
The defense contends that variations among Hernandez's descriptions of his victim, his motives and his means of disposing of the body show that he was making it up.
Prosecutors plan to show the jury one of his videotaped confessions Tuesday.