Judge moves NY officer's trial in cannibalism case
NEW YORK (AP) — The trial of a New York City police officer charged with conspiring to rape, kill and eat women was rescheduled on Tuesday from next week to next month as defense lawyers failed to convince a federal appeals court that he should be free on bail.
U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe said jury selection in the trial of 28-year-old Gilberto Valle will start Feb. 11, with opening statements beginning on Feb. 25.
He granted a request to delay the trial, which was scheduled for next Tuesday, after lawyers for Valle said they need extra time to prepare because being in prison has made it difficult for Valle to review nearly 1 million pages of evidence. Defense attorney Julia Gatto said authorities had arranged for him to look at evidence on a computer during the day but he must be handcuffed while doing so.
The delay came soon after a three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan agreed with three lower-court judges that Valle should not be granted bail while awaiting trial.
He has been imprisoned since he was charged last fall with using a law enforcement database between last January and Oct. 24 as he made plans to kidnap, rape, kill and eat women while communicating with others on a website devoted to the exploration of deviant sexual fantasies. Defense lawyers have said all along he was engaging in sexual fantasies and intended no violence.
Last week, a 22-year-old Trenton, N.J., man, Michael Vanhise, was charged in the case. He was accused of trying to hire Valle to kidnap a Manhattan woman that he could rape and kill. He, like Valle, has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy. Vanhise's lawyer has said her client never intended to harm anyone and made that clear to investigators with whom he cooperated for several months before his arrest.
During Tuesday's appeals arguments, defense attorney Edward Zas said Valle was just like 40,000 other people who go online to "engage in the most heinous depraved chats but they are imaginary."
Circuit Judge Chester J. Straub questioned how the defense could argue that the case was built solely on fantasies when there was evidence that Valle and others used real names, engaged in surveillance and discussed how much money would be charged to kidnap a woman.
Zas said aspects of the government's case were already crumbling, including its claim that he went to Maryland to conduct surveillance on a woman, who now says she knew the police officer and there was nothing unusual about his visit.
Zas called the prosecution misguided and predicted Valle would be exonerated.
"He's done nothing except imagine bad things and put them foolishly on the Internet in a very bad way," Zas said. "If there is just role playing ... there is no crime at all. The only crime is in Mr. Valle's imagination."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Hadassa Waxman told the court that the government had inadvertently mischaracterized the purpose of Valle's visit with the woman in Maryland but added that there was plenty of other evidence that went beyond fantasy.
She said, for instance, that Valle had accessed the recipe for chloroform and sent it to a co-conspirator and had an operating plan for kidnapping and cooking women.
The prosecutor said Valle had created plots that were a "depraved, disgusting, troubling, gruesome" blueprint for kidnappings, and she noted that his wife had insisted on removing their daughter from their home.
"He risked his job, his marriage, his child and his freedom to engage in these acts," she said.