In this courtroom drawing from a hearing last October, Federal Defender… (Elizabeth Williams / Associated…)
A federal jury in Manhattan will be asked to decide whether a New York policeman’s desire to kidnap, cook and eat women was part of a sick homicidal plan or just another bizarre fantasy.
The trial of the officer, dubbed the “cannibal cop,” begins Monday afternoon with opening statements before a jury of six men and six women, many of whom are college-educated and have lived in the metropolitan New York area most of their lives. New Yorkers have been living with the case, which has sparked the expected frantic tabloid headlines including "Cook 'em Danno."
Until late last year, Gilberto Valle was just another 28-year-old police officer, a college graduate and father. Then he was charged with conspiring to kidnap a woman and unauthorized use of a law enforcement database. If convicted on the kidnapping conspiracy charge, Valle could receive life in prison.
The prosecution alleges that a trail of electrons on emails, instant messages and chat rooms paints a portrait of a troubled man on the hunt for a snack. Valle created a computer file of at least 100 women with key information like names, addresses and photographs, some of which allegedly were taken illegally from a law enforcement database.
“I'm planning on getting me some girl meat,” Valle allegedly wrote in one chat room. “It's this November, for Thanksgiving. ... She's not a volunteer. She has to be abducted.”
Another alleged target was an 18-year-old high school student who Valle wrote was “the most desirable piece of meat I've ever met” and was small enough to fit in his oven, according to the prosecution.
The prosecution claims that Valle stalked his prey. On Monday the government announced that an FBI agent scheduled to testify about disputed cellphone data would not testify and was not needed for the prosecution case.
The defense argues that the cannibalism was all just a fantasy and similar to some other dark thoughts. Valle’s comments were so outside the norm, that they cannot be taken seriously, the defense said.
In the jury selection period, defense attorney Julia Gatto displayed a kinky staged photo of a woman trussed up in a roasting pan. “The government's case is nothing more than a hard drive full of disturbing, sexually deviant talk between my client and other men who share his, albeit weird, proclivities,” the attorney said.
The defense is also expected to call expert witnesses who will walk jurors through the online world of “vores” -- short for carnivores -- those who seek some degree of satisfaction from discussions of cannibalism.
A clinical sexologist is expected to testify about sexually explicit websites that “resemble improvisational theater,” according to court papers. “The style is to maintain the repartee, regardless of how implausible, ridiculous or even impossible the conversations gets.”
A New Jersey man charged with scheming with Valle to kidnap, rape and murder a Manhattan woman is awaiting trial. He also argues that he intended no harm.
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