NEW YORK – The fate of a suspended New York City police officer accused of plotting to kill and cannibalize women he knew is in the hands of jurors after his defense lawyer told them in closing arguments that his elaborate plans were fantasy role-play and a prosecutor said they were "no joke."
The jury resumed deliberations Friday after doing so for a little more than an hour the night before in the kidnapping conspiracy case brought against 28-year-old Officer Gilberto Valle. Valle is also charged with using a national database to learn personal information about potential targets. If convicted, he could face life in prison.
Before jurors received the case, defense attorney Julia Gatto said Valle's chats on fetish websites about abducting, torturing and eating at least six women, including his wife, "are no more real than an alien invasion."
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Hadassa Waxman said evidence showed Valle "left the world of fantasy and entered the world of reality." The officer's actions were "no joke," she added. "It was not just sick entertainment."
In a rebuttal argument given before the jury was to get the case, prosecutor Randall Jackson called Valle "a sexually sadistic individual."
Jackson also said the alarming material uncovered by an analysis of Valle's computers was like other investigations in which people are found "engaging in fantastical discussions about seeing planes exploding" -- a comparison that prompted the defense to ask for a mistrial, arguing he was trying to frighten the jury with veiled reference to the Sept. 11 terrorist attack just blocks from the Manhattan courthouse. The judge disagreed and denied the motion.
The arguments capped a two-week trial in federal court. During the presentation of evidence, jurors sometimes appeared squeamish when shown sadistic images from Internet sites visited by Valle. The officer openly wept over his wife's testimony describing how she uncovered his late-night computer activity, fled their home with their infant child and contacted the FBI.
Valle's arrest last year interrupted a ghoulish plan to "kidnap, torture, rape and commit other horrific acts on young women," Waxman said Thursday.
The prosecutor argued that the officer took concrete steps to further the plot -- looking up potential targets on a restricted law enforcement database, searching the Internet for how to knock someone out with chloroform, and showing up on the block of one woman after agreeing to kidnap her for $5,000.
At trial, the jury heard the testimony of women who knew Valle and were trading innocent-sounding emails and texts with him at the same time prosecutors say he was scheming to make meals out of them. The government also sought to drive home the point that Valle was more of a threat because he was a police officer.
"Women who wanted no part of this were put in grave danger by that man, Gilberto Valle," Waxman said as she pointed at him.
The defense claims Valle is being prosecuted for indulging in offensive-but-harmless fantasies fed by visits to websites meant solely for role play.
Gatto started her closing by reading from a 2012 Valle email saying, "I just have a world in my mind and in that world I am kidnapping women and selling them to people interested in buying them."
The attorney called her client's obsession with cannibalism a "stupid, infantile" habit that destroyed his life -- but not proof of a conspiracy with three others he never met in person. The defendant, wearing a dark suit and yellow tie, again cried as his lawyer described how the case had "cost him everything," including his wife and "adorable baby."
Gatto also compared the Valle case to the infamous "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast in 1938 that, according to myth, caused some people to flee their homes.
The lawyer argued Valle's only crime was fantasizing about doing sick things to women he knew.
"That's Gil's porn," she said. "Gil has a fetish. He's had it for a long time."