A mistrial was declared Friday in the Etan Patz murder trial after jurors said they were deadlocked on charges against former grocery clerk Pedro Hernandez, leaving the 6-year-old's 1979 disappearance still officially a mystery after 36 years.

State Supreme Court Justice Maxwell Wiley in Manhattan said at 3:08 p.m. that he would dismiss the panel after receiving a note from jurors saying they were deadlocked, but he waited for members of Etan's family to arrive before dismissing the panel.

The hotly contested trial began in January, and deliberations lasted 18 days. The failure to reach a verdict was anticipated ever since jurors first disclosed on April 29 that they could not agree.

Wiley finally decided to let the jurors go after they announced another stalemate Tuesday, and said Friday they were unable to break it over three days despite his order to keep trying.

Prosecutor Joan Illuzzi-Orbon immediately asked for a hearing in June to set a date for a retrial.

In his first comments since Hernandez was arrested, Etan's father, Stanley Patz, said he supports a retrial.

"He is a guilty man," Patz said of Hernandez. "I don't understand why the jury couldn't come to a verdict, but I am convinced."

Hernandez's wife, Rosemary, and daughter, Rebecca, left the courthouse without making any comments. But they grabbed each other's hands when they learned from the defense team the jury could not reach a verdict. They both smiled at Hernandez when he entered the courtroom before the judge declared a mistrial.

Alice Fontier, co-defense counsel, said Hernandez is upset with the outcome.

"He thought he was going to get a not-guilty verdict and go home, which is what should have happened," Fontier said.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said in a statement, "We believe there is clear and corroborated evidence of the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The challenges in this case were exacerbated by the passage of time, but they should not and did not deter us."

Hernandez, who has been held since his arrest in 2012, is expected to seek release pending any retrial.

Etan vanished on his way to catch a school bus in SoHo on May 25, 1979. Police received a tip in 2012 from a relative that Hernandez, 54, a married father from Maple Shade, New Jersey, might have been involved.

In a now disputed confession, Hernandez told police that as a teen working in a SoHo bodega near the bus stop, he had lured Etan into the basement with a soda and strangled him.

Etan's body has never been found.

The defense argued at trial that the confession was a delusion caused by a mental disorder, and tried to cast suspicion on Jose Ramos, a convicted molester who was dating a woman who walked Etan to school in 1979.

Stanley Patz also talked about Ramos after the judge declared a mistrial.

"We were committed to the Ramos theory, but this one makes so much more sense it blows Ramos out of the water," Etan's father said.

With Maria Alvarez