Long gone is the gritty SoHo of 1979 where little Etan Patz took his last steps before going missing on his first and last walk alone to school. But news that a hung jury forced a mistrial Friday in the case of a man who confessed to killing the 6-year-old has dredged up long-simmering memories, never too far away, on the now-gentrified block that his parents still call home.
Eleven Manhattan jurors wanted to convict Pedro Hernandez, who used to work at the bodega where Etan was last seen alive and who confessed to police three decades later. After weeks of deliberations, the one holdout juror said he couldnat believe the confession beyond a reasonable doubt.
That left Diana Monaro of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, heartbroken, furious and outraged that a man she considers guilty could be set free.
"How is it that this guy is gonna walk because he's insane? He killed a little boy a and he confessed!" the 45-year-old stay-at-home mom of three young boys said, as she passed the spot where Etan vanished. "It makes my blood boil. That guy should burn in hell. He should be executed."
Hernandez remains in custody. Justice Maxwell Wiley set a June 10 hearing at which the prosecution is likely to seek a retrial.
Monaro was en route to the gym, walking by a Michal Negrin jewelry store that has replaced the bodega on Prince Street and West Broadway. The neighborhood is now a tourist hotspot, home to chichi cafes and high-end boutiques.
"I think that guy" -- the holdout juror -- "is insane," she said.
The juror, Adam Sirois, told reporters that he gave weight to defense arguments that police coerced Hernandez, a mentally troubled factory worker from New Jersey, into confessing. The case was too circumstantial, Sirois said.
For years after the disappearance, missing-person posters dotted the neighborhood, said Chris Calhoun. He moved to New York in 1981 and recalled seeing the boyas haunting image, shot by his professional-photographer dad, posted at joints like Fanelli's Cafe down Prince Street.
"You saw the 'missing' posters everywhere," said Calhoun, 62, a literary agent, who was walking in front of the Patz home Saturday. "It was one of the things the neighborhood was known for," he said of the disappearance.
Retired bank executive Stephen Sherman, 61, now of Scarsdale, who lived in the city three decades ago, said that whatever one thinks of the hung jury, "that's the system. You gotta live with it."
Sherman, a father himself, said that while child disappearances like Patzas are quite rare, "All you can do is hope it doesn't happen to your family."