NEW YORK – A jury that's been bombarded with ghoulish online talk and images of women being cooked alive, sex with dead people and human-flesh feasts will now have to decide the kidnapping conspiracy case against a New York City police officer without hearing testimony from him.
Gilberto Valle opted Tuesday not to take the witness stand in federal court in Manhattan, cutting short the defense case and making it likely that jurors will get the case before the end of the week.
"It is my desire not to testify, that's correct," Valle responded when asked by the judge about the decision.
The defense rested on Tuesday in the trial's second week also without calling experts that had been expected to testify about Valle's mental state when he engaged in a cannibalism fetish.
The evidence already showed that "this is all fantasy role play," defense attorney Robert Baum said outside court. "Gil had nothing to add to that really ... except to say 'I didn't do it.'"
Lawyers are due back in court on Wednesday to discuss jury instructions before closing arguments set for Thursday in a case that's made Valle a tabloid sensation. Valle faces a possible life term if convicted on the kidnapping count.
Valle, 28, was arrested in October after his wife discovered the chats on his computer and fled their home, turning a computer over to the FBI in Reno, Nev.
The government has conceded that Valle never met the purported Internet co-conspirators and that no women were harmed. But they argue he took concrete steps to carry out abductions of his wife and former college and high school classmates, including researching potential victims on a restricted law enforcement database.
During the government's weeklong case, jurors viewed a staged video of a screaming naked woman being tortured with a blow torch. They also heard about how Valle and another man discussed how best to cook and eat a woman, with the man suggesting a meal eaten with a severed head as a centerpiece.
The defense relied on only three witnesses, all on Tuesday. Most of the testimony came from Sergey Merenkov, the Russian founder of a fetish website used by Valle.
The testimony by Merenkov, 34, was recorded using Skype from Moscow after he refused to travel to New York for the trial. Sitting in a leather chair, wearing a black T-shirt and speaking in Russian, he frequently leaned back in and put his hands behind his head, and sipped from a coffee cup as explained how he and partners started a website in 2010 to create a Facebook-like environment for people with kinky fantasies.
"We saw a niche in the market. So we decided to jump in and create the website for these people that have similar interests," he said. Merenkov called sexual asphyxiation the "main fetish" but said cannibalism and sex with dead people also were popular on the website, which is "oriented to people with fetishes that are not considered to be standard."
He testified that of the 38,000 members, about 4,500 are active users who commonly engage in role-play on the site, such as when a woman poses as a witch and a mob of 10 or more angry villagers prepare to hang her.
"The girl could write, 'I'm shivering from fright. They're pulling me to the noose. I can feel the rope already on my neck,'" he testified.
On cross examination by Assistant U.S. Attorney Randall Jackson, Merenkov said he did not know anything about Valle when the FBI contacted him last fall. He said he tried to find communications involving Valle but they apparently were lost when Valle quit the website in September.
"Who was it that actually deleted Mr. Valle's account? Was it you or was it Mr. Valle?" Jackson asked.
"It was not me for sure," Merenkov answered. "I think it was him."
The prosecutor asked him if some subjects discussed on the website would be illegal if they were carried out, such as sex with dead bodies.
"Yes, but reality is one thing and fantasy is completely a different thing," he responded.
Another defense witness was a paralegal who offered examples of profiles from Merenkov's website. A woman called herself "Vicious-Vixen" said she fantasized about "being executed with a gun and eaten as a meat girl," but added, "I will never meet you in real life."