A second member of a New Jersey charismatic prayer group testified at the Etan Patz murder trial on Friday that defendant Pedro Hernandez said at a 1979 retreat that he had killed a boy in New York City.
Witness Paito Concepcion, 79, echoed testimony Thursday from his best friend, Ramon Rodriguez, with one important difference -- a claim that Hernandez said he cut up the boy in a bodega basement, which would likely have created a hard-to-miss crime scene.
Concepcion, testifying through a Spanish interpreter, also indicated that he never reported Hernandez's statements to authorities because he had some kind of mental problem -- pointing his finger at his head and circling it to illustrate his point.
"We thought the man, you know, he wasn't doing well," he said. "And second, I was not [there], I did not see anything."
Hernandez, 53, a married father from Maple Shade, N.J., is accused of kidnapping and murdering Patz, the 6-year-old first grader who disappeared in SoHo on May 25, 1979, on his way to catch a school bus. His body was never found.
The charges in the long-unsolved disappearance are based on a 2012 confession in which Hernandez said that as a teen working in a SoHo bodega he lured Patz into the basement with a soda, strangled him, and disposed of his body in a box he left in an alley.
The defense contends that Hernandez has a borderline IQ that made him vulnerable to police pressure, and fantasized the crime because of a mental disorder that causes him to hallucinate.
The prayer retreat at a farm in New Jersey is one of three occasions between 1979 and his arrest in 2012, prosecutors say, when Hernandez privately made reference to having hurt a boy in New York.
Concepcion, who is Puerto Rican, said he lived in New York and New Jersey for nearly 30 years, and met Hernandez only once. Hernandez was in a prayer circle with four other men, began crying, and was encouraged to talk, he testified.
"He grabbed a child, gave him a soda, took him to the basement, and in the basement he said he abused him," Concepcion recalled. "...Then later he asphyxiated him....Then when he asphyxiated him, 'I cut him. I cut him,' he said, 'I put him in a bag, a plastic bag, and I threw him in the garbage.'"
Rodriguez on Thursday described a similar confession. But he said Hernandez spoke to him individually, not in the prayer group, and confessed to sodomizing the boy with a stick. He did not recall Hernandez saying he cut the boy up.
The bodega's manager, Juan Santana, Hernandez's brother, testified earlier that police searched both the bodega and the basement in 1979 during their hunt for Patz.