A psychiatrist testified Tuesday that defendant Pedro Hernandez told him as many as 15 people, some in gowns, were in the basement of a bodega when Hernandez claimed he strangled 6-year-old Etan Patz in 1979.
Dr. Michael First, a defense expert called to try to persuade jurors in the murder trial that Hernandez's 2012 confession was a fantasy caused by a mental disorder, said that over three exams the New Jersey man told him that "voices" told him to approach Patz, and that people who had appeared in visions dating back to his youth were present.
"Some were coming down the stairs as he was strangling the boy," First said Hernandez told him. "Some were standing next to the boy."
The group, the psychiatrist recalled, included a bald man, someone with gray hair, someone with white hair, some old women, some dressed in nursing home gowns, two little girls, a man in a suit, and someone wearing a pearl necklace.
"When he went up the steps with the body they parted," First said Hernandez told him. "And then they followed him."
Hernandez, 53, of Maple Shade, N.J., confessed to NYPD detectives in 2012 that as a teen working in a SoHo grocery he lured Patz into the basement by offering a soda, choked him, and then put his body in a box and carried it to an alley 1-1/2 blocks away.
Patz vanished without a trace on his way to catch a school bus, which stopped next to the bodega. Hernandez's daughter testified Monday that her father was a troubled man with no social life and eccentric habits who woke up screaming and reported visions.
First said that based on three exams, past medical records and observable behavior such as a flat, emotionless affect, he concluded that Hernandez was not faking and diagnosed him with schizotypal personality disorder - a psychotic condition that includes a defective capacity to distinguish reality from what is going on only in the mind.
Although Hernandez did not tell police about any belief that others were in the bodega basement with him, First said Hernandez said he had a reason for keeping it secret.
"I don't want to tell people that," he told the psychiatrist. "They'll think I'm crazy."
The trial began in January. During the prosecution case, a number of witnesses - police, former employers, relatives and others - testified that Hernandez appeared in everyday encounters to be completely normal.
Testimony continues Tuesday afternoon.