NEW YORK – Jury selection in the trial of a police officer accused of plotting to kill and eat women was set to begin Friday with the judge talking to more than 100 prospective jurors before they fill out questionnaires aimed at revealing biases.
Generally, prospective jurors aren't asked to answer written questions, though questionnaires have been used in terrorism trials and in other instances when it's suspected that biases among some people may be strong.
U.S. District Judge Paul G. Gardephe in Manhattan said he would speak to the potential jurors before they answer the questions because he wants them "to understand how important I think this exercise is to ensuring both sides receive a fair trial."
The judge, noting the unusual nature of the cannibalism conspiracy trial, said at a pretrial hearing Wednesday that he wants jurors to know "how critical it is they be candid."
The police officer, Gilberto Valle, has been jailed without bail since he was arrested in the fall on charges that he used a law enforcement database to make plans to kidnap, rape, kill and eat women. Prosecutors say he conspired with three others to kidnap eight "specific and identified women."
His lawyers say he had no criminal intent and his Internet chats and frequent visits to websites depicting sadomasochistic behavior were evidence only of his sexual fantasies.
The defense team asked the judge to let jurors see kinky photos it says were part of Valle's fantasy world. By late Thursday, the judge had not said publicly if he has ruled whether he would show jurors one staged Internet photo of a nude woman hogtied and served up on a roasting tray and another of a woman tied to a spit over an open fire.
Prospective jurors are likely to be asked about any biases they might have toward people who look at pornography.
After some prospective jurors are eliminated by their responses to the questionnaire, the judge will begin asking remaining potential jurors questions orally on Monday. Opening statements are scheduled for Feb. 25.
A New Jersey man also charged in the case will be tried separately.