|Former New York City police officer Gilberto Valle (L), dubbed by local media as the "Cannibal Cop", listens as his wife Kathleen Mangan testifies in this courtroom sketch on the first day of his trial in New York February 25, 2013. (REUTERS/Jane Rosenburg)
NEW YORK - New York City’s accused “cannibal cop” crossed the line from fantasy to reality in plotting to kidnap, cook and eat women, a federal prosecutor told a jury in closing arguments on Thursday.
Defence attorney Julia Gatto countered in summations that her client was playing a fantasy role online, and told jurors “we don’t convict human beings because of ugly thoughts ... even if they are police officers.”
Police Officer Gilberto Valle, 28, has pleaded not guilty to a charge of conspiring to kidnap, saying he had merely engaged in online fetish role play.
He has also pleaded not guilty to improperly accessing a law enforcement database to gather personal information about potential targets.
A jury of six women and six men was expected to begin deliberations Thursday afternoon in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Hadassa Waxman said in her closing argument that Valle was engaged in fantasy but that his intentions had grown more sinister.
Pointing to his extensive online research on kidnapping, making chloroform and cooking women, she said: “These are real searches conducted to carry out real research to kidnap real women.”
“This case is not about freedom of speech, or freedom of thought,” Waxman told jurors. Fetish websites “are not on trial here. This is about Gilberto Valle’s plans to hurt young women.”
Defence lawyer Gatto compared Valle’s online activity to Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast on Oct. 30, 1938, which many Americans mistook for a real alien invasion.
Valle’s role play “was set up to sound as real as it could, sprinkled with real details,” Gatto said.
When others come across it, she said, “panic ensues, because they think it’s real... but it’s all make believe.”
Gatto told jurors that after nearly a year of fantasizing about roughly two dozen women, in many cases discussing kidnapping with other fetishists, none of the plotters had ever met, exchanged money or committed any crimes.
Valle, dubbed the “cannibal cop” by tabloid media, did not testify.
The trial has brought to light a macabre community of cyberspace where millions of people discuss and exchange images and video of extraordinary brutality, much of it staged.
On Tuesday, defence attorneys took jurors on a video tour of DarkFetishNet.com, a website at the heart of Valle’s case.
The website functions like mainstream social media networks and its creator, Russian Web entrepreneur Sergay Merenkov, likened it to Facebook in a videotaped deposition earlier in the week. However, instead of family photos and cat videos, members share photos and videos of extreme cruelty - including rape and asphyxiation - with the goal of sexual stimulation.
Members dream up brutally violent scripts, said Merenkov, who has kicked members off the site when “it seemed not to be fantasy anymore.”
Prosecutors said Valle revealed himself to be such a person when he began taking steps to act on his fantasies.