MANHATTAN (CN) — Transporting jurors to a New York City of old, the same Manhattan prosecutor who failed last year to convict the suspected killer of 6-year-old Etan Patz delivered an emotional speech Tuesday about the 37-year-old crime.
"We're all about to go back to 1979, a time in the city when many neighborhoods in the city looked more like small towns than a major metropolis," Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi-Orbon told jurors at Manhattan Criminal Court this morning.
New York City saw a spike in crime in the 1980s, but suburban imagery dominated the turn-of-the-decade Gotham in the prosecutor's telling.
Patz's metropolis was one in which a young child could walk himself to a bus stop in front of a corner bodega without fear.
Illuzzi said Patz turned up missing on the day of his first "big-boy" walk alone to the bodega — a place considered as a "safe haven" and "mecca" for the children who bought sweets there en route to school.
In Illuzi's New York of the late 1970s, residents saw their sense of safety shattered when Patz disappeared, his angelic face becoming the first to appear on a milk carton as missing.
"It is Etan who will forever symbolize the loss of that innocence," Illuzzi said, addressing jurors from a podium.
The prosecutor gestured at times during her opening to smiling photographs of Patz in a slideshow playing for the courtroom.
Images of the boy wearing his oversized "favorite" cap were interspersed with black-and-white shots of a sparsely populated Soho street corner, a memento of a forgotten New York City.
Everything old was new again in the seventh-floor courtroom, even the trial.
In May 2015, a New York jury that had listened to a speech much like this came back deadlocked three times, unable to find Pedro Hernandez guilty of murdering a boy whose body was never found. Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Maxwell Wiley declared a mistrial.
The setback stung Illuzzi, sidetracking her political aspirations to become district attorney of Staten Island.
Illuzzi's return to the case, her electoral ambitions thwarted, mark a rematch against defense attorney Harvey Fishbein, the same man who represented Hernandez in the initial trial.
In the late afternoon, Fishbein snapped the courtroom out of its reverie of a sepia Soho seemingly pulled out of Norman Rockwell painting.
"In 1979, Soho was not an idyllic setting," he said. "It was gritty. There were few residents."
While a sprinkling of artists started homesteading the industrial neighborhood at the time, decades would pass before its cobblestone streets would enjoy their current reputation of money and glamour.
"Do not for a moment think that it is anything like what it is now," Fishbein said.
Piercing through sentiment at every turn, Fishbein tried to implant reasonable doubt in the minds of a jury, using the same course of attack that he tried in the first trial.
Though Hernandez repeatedly confessed to the murder, Fishbein has long noted his client is not the only man who fit that description: At least two men claimed to have killed the 6-year-old Patz.
The other man was Jose Ramos, a convicted pedophile who bragged about killing Patz to a jailhouse informant.