A Long Island man who drove a commercial garbage route in Soho in 1979, had a brief turn in the spotlight at the Etan Patz murder trial Thursday as prosecutors presented a theory of what might have happened to the body of the 6-year-old boy who vanished going to school.
In a now-disputed 2012 confession, defendant Pedro Hernandez told NYPD detectives that when he was a teen working in a Soho bodega in May, 1979, he strangled Etan in the store basement, put him in a produce box, and dumped it in an alley on Thompson Street.
Etan's body was never found. But Frank Casalino, 56, of Malverne, called by prosecutors, told jurors that in 1979 he drove a garbage route for his dad's carting firm that serviced a fruit stand on Thompson, just yards from the alley where Hernandez said he left the box.
Six days a week, between 9 and 10 a.m., Casalino testified, he emptied two trash bins, while employees would come out and throw boxes left by the bins into the back of his truck. It was all deposited in a "30 or 40 acre" landfill in New Jersey.
"It was Exit 9, off the turnpike," he said, unable to remember the name of the town.
The defense contends Hernandez's entire confession was a fantasy caused by a mental disorder. Prosecutors -- who have little proof beyond the confession -- have presented no evidence that a box with Etan actually got on Casalino's truck, or proof of how it might have gotten from a nearby alley to the trash bin.
In 2012, Hernandez showed police where he thought he left the body. He first pointed to stairs leading down to a sub-street alley at 115 Thompson, but noticed an unfamiliar gate at the bottom and decided he left it down a shorter stairway next door at 113 Thompson.
The defense scored points last week when a detective admitted those stairs led into a bakery in 1979. But a second prosecution witness Thursday -- Hyung Il Kim, who has run the fruit store since 1981 -- testified he put in the gate after taking over, suggesting a possible explanation for Hernandez's confusion.
The alley at 115, Kim said, provided access to his basement. Prosecutor Joan Illuzzi-Orbon asked hopefully if employees took garbage out from the basement through the alley to the trash bin -- a possible explanation for a stray box getting up to the bin.
"Not so much," Kim answered.