NEW YORK (AP) — The government is panicking to paste together a crumbling case against a police officer accused of plotting to kill and eat women, a defense attorney claimed Monday as prosecutors introduced new evidence that they say shows the officer's elaborate and gory Internet prose was more than fantasy.
"Now they're really just throwing darts in the air," attorney Julia Gatto charged as she asked a federal judge in Manhattan to disqualify fresh evidence that the government says it has found to prove Officer Gilberto Valle was using his cellphone in the vicinity of one of eight women it claims he and others wanted to attack in a cannibalism conspiracy.
She spoke just before jury selection resumed in a trial that will contain such scurrilous words and shocking imagery that more than two dozen prospective jurors begged off the case when jury selection began Friday, saying they were physically sickened by a description of the case and a glimpse of some sample pictures of what they might see.
Prosecutors said they now intend to introduce evidence that Valle's cellphone pinged off a cellphone tower one day last May near a high school where one of the eight females attended school.
Gatto noted that the May 5 cellphone data was recorded on a Saturday near Archbishop Molloy High School, the same Queens high school from which Valle graduated in 2002.
The defense lawyer said prosecutors have abandoned similar evidence against Valle after Gatto claimed last week that a cellphone tower signal from Valle's phone last August in downtown Manhattan wasn't proof that the officer was doing surveillance on a woman who worked downtown because it occurred on a Sunday and Valle didn't know she worked there. She also prompted the government to admit that the cellphone data could only show the user was within five blocks of a location.
She called cellphone data "the foundation of their case and it's crumbling and they're panicking."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jackson Randall Jackson scoffed at Gatto's claim.
"This is not the foundation of our case," he said. Instead, he added, the bulk of the crucial evidence consists of communications between Valle and co-conspirators on the Internet along with inferences that can be made that he engaged in surveillance of intended victims from data that includes cellphone signal hits near where they worked, lived or, in the latest instance, went to school.
The judge did not ban the new evidence from use at the trial, though he said he was dismayed that it was being introduced just as the trial was beginning, leaving the defense little time to investigate and refute the claims. Opening statements are scheduled for Feb. 25.
Valle, 28, is charged with conspiracy to kidnap and take information illegally from a national crime database. Prosecutors say he conspired with three others to kidnap, torture, rape, kill and eat the flesh of women.
Defense lawyers say Valle was engaging in online fantasies on fetish websites frequented by tens of thousands of people around the world who have no intention of committing crimes. No women were harmed and prosecutors say the intended targets didn't know they were targets.
A New Jersey man charged in the case will be tried separately.