NEW YORK (AP) – Defense lawyers say all Internet users should worry that their online words can end up in federal court after a jury concluded that a New York police officer’s plans to kidnap, kill and eat young women he knew were more than Internet chatter.
At the end of one of the most unusual federal trials ever, a jury agreed Tuesday with the government that 28-year-old Gilberto Valle wasn’t just fantasizing when he conversed online with others he had never met about killing and cooking his wife and others in a cannibalism plot.
“Yes, they should be cautioned,” Valle defense lawyer Robert Baum said outside court of people everywhere. “It sets a dangerous precedent.”
The larger principle at stake in the trial was that “people can be prosecuted for their thoughts,” Baum said, pausing before adding: “And convicted, which is even sadder to think about.”
Baum had just exited federal court in Manhattan, where Valle and others at the defense table dropped their heads as the guilty verdicts were announced by a jury that had deliberated for portions of four days.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement: “Today, a unanimous jury found that Gilberto Valle’s detailed and specific plans to abduct women for the purpose of committing grotesque crimes were very real and that he was guilty as charged. The Internet is a forum for the free exchange of ideas, but it does not confer immunity for plotting crimes and taking steps to carry out those crimes.”
Marcellus McRae, a former federal prosecutor in Los Angeles now in private practice, said it was a stretch by the defense to claim Valle was prosecuted for his thoughts because the jurors were required to find that he took one or more concrete steps to carry out the conspiracy.
“It’s not just a thought crime. It’s a thought-and-action crime and conviction,” he said.
Valle defense attorney Julia Gatto declined to talk about the sentencing scheduled for June 19, saying the defense team was focused only on trying to reverse the conviction on charges of kidnapping conspiracy and illegally accessing a national crime database. She said she will appeal within a month to U.S. District Judge Paul G. Gardephe to throw out the jury verdict or to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Although Valle could face up to life in prison, he is likely to get a much lower sentence.
Gatto, who said she cried with Valle after the verdict was announced, called it a “dangerous prosecution when we start opening our minds and prosecuting what’s in our brains and not what’s in the real world.”
The jury, though, rejected the same “thought prosecution” argument she made throughout the trial.
Jurors left the courthouse without comment. Most did not immediately respond to emails and phone messages or declined to discuss the case.
Valle’s mother, Elizabeth, shook her head. “I’m in shock and want to be left alone,” she said.
Prosecutors said Valle plotted in lusty, lip-smacking detail to abduct, torture and cannibalize six women he knew, including his wife. While none of the women were ever harmed _ and only his wife discovered his schemes _ prosecutors said he took concrete steps to carry out his plot.
They said the New York City police officer looked up potential targets on a restricted law enforcement database; searched the Internet for how to knock someone out with chloroform and where to get torture devices and other tools; and showed up on a woman’s block after striking an agreement to kidnap her for $5,000 for a New Jersey man who wanted to rape and kill her. That man was also arrested and is awaiting trial.
In one of the numerous online conversations shown to the jury, Valle told a man he met in a fetish chat room, “I want her to experience being cooked alive. She’ll be trussed up like a turkey. … She’ll be terrified, screaming and crying.”
In another exchange, Valle suggested a woman he knew would be easy prey because she lived alone. The men discussed cooking her, basted in olive oil, over an open fire and using her severed head as a centerpiece for a sit-down meal.
“I’m dying to eat some girl meat,” Valle mused in yet another exchange.
During the trial, Valle’s wife tearfully testified that she fled the couple’s home with her baby and contacted the FBI after putting Internet tracking software on his computer and discovering what he was up to.
Members of the jury recoiled upon seeing what appeared to be mostly staged Internet images from a sexual fetish site Valle visited. The images included photos of wide-eyed women with apples stuffed in their mouths like roasted pigs and a video of a chained, naked woman screaming as flames appeared to scorch her crotch.
Associated Press writer Tom Hays contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
- Locals helping locals: 6 success stories you need to know about
- Sunscreen facts that could save your life
- 6 energy saving hacks for your home
- 5 tips for choosing a company to end your timeshare
- Water tips to save money, help save the Earth
- 5 of the most adored gentlemen in professional sports today
- The real danger of sitting at your desk
- Most surprising NBA playoff performances of the last 40 years
- 11 classic baseball movies you must see again
- Finally getting rid of fat: 3 methods that actually work
- 4 reasons cancer survivors should focus on food
- 5 spring cleaning spots everyone forgets
- 5 reasons to look forward to watching the D-backs this season
- Common virus attributed to spike in head and neck cancers
- 5 signs it’s time to end your timeshare ownership
- 3 most overlooked ways to keep your home healthy
- 6 ways the air in your home could be making you sick
- CrossFit dangers: 5 common injuries and how to deal with them
- Today's radiation treatments offer better success, fewer side effects
- Tips to make watching TV on the patio even better
- What really happens when you donate to a community college?
- Sun and skin cancer: Separating fact from fiction
- 5 critical lifestyle changes for a healthy colon
- What you need to know about Alzheimer's disease in Arizona
- Spring clean your windows like a pro with these 8 tips
- 7 films that should have won best-picture Oscars
- New plumbing technology saves money and improves your home
- Survey shows Arizona CFOs optimistic about 2016
- How chronic pain can affect your love life
- 5 potential warning signs about your child's development