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'Cannibal Cop' trial pits virtual reality against real thing

February 25, 2013|By Michael Muskal
  • In this courtroom sketch, Gilberto Valle is seen in federal court in New York on Monday.
In this courtroom sketch, Gilberto Valle is seen in federal court in New… (Elizabeth Williams / Associated…)

Testimony began Monday in Manhattan federal court, where a jury was being asked to determine when role playing crosses virtual reality into criminal action.

The prosecution and defense kicked off the ”Cannibal Cop” trial, sparring over how seriously to take the actions of Gilberto Valle, 28, a New York City policeman accused of conspiring to kidnap and eventually eat women. He is also accused of using information from a law enforcement database to build a list of 100 women who the prosecution says were potential targets.

If convicted of the federal kidnapping-related charge, Valle could be sentenced to life in prison.

“Make no mistake,” Assistant U.S. Atty. Randall Jackson told the jury, according to media reports from the courtroom. “Gilberto Valle was very serious about these plans.”

Defense attorney Julia Gatto told the six-man and six-woman jury that it “can't convict people for their thoughts, even if they're sick.” The defense has said it plans to call witnesses who will argue that Valle was just engaged in a secret online world where people play the roles of cannibals, but do not act out their fantasies.

Claims by lawyers for Valle that he was only indulging in fetish fantasies are “utterly bogus,” prosecutor Jackson said.

The case has titillated New Yorkers since it broke late last year. It combines a cop, accused of crossing the line between good and evil, with the never-ending fascination that some have for cannibalism — a topic in horror movies, television shows and literature.

The prosecution called its first witness, Valle’s estranged wife, Kathleen Mangan. She fled their home on Sept. 10, 2012, believing her husband was planning to kidnap, rape, torture and murder her. She is also expected to testify that Valle had similar plans for other women.

Mangan took the stand and wept as she told of how she went to the FBI after finding what she called disturbing material on her husband’s computer.

But the defense sees Valle as just a person who was seeking out a fantasy. He is expected to testify that he was just playing a role as others have done on such websites as darkfetishnet.com.

According to reports, the defense is planning to show jurors the videotaped testimony of darkfetishnet.com cofounder Sergey Merenkov in which he describes the site as a “social media network.” Asked about the most popular fetishes, Merenkov responds, “All sorts of asphyxiation” and “peril cannibalism.”

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