NEW YORK — A former New York City police officer whose conviction was overturned in a plot to kidnap, torture, kill and eat women was ordered freed Tuesday by a federal judge, who ruled that the officer’s bizarre threats of cannibalism were most likely elements of “fantasy role play.”
U.S. District Judge Paul G. Gardephe in Manhattan acquitted the former officer, Gilberto Valle, on the most serious count that he faced, kidnapping conspiracy. He could have faced life in prison for that.
“The evidentiary record is such that it is more likely than not the case that all of Valle’s Internet communications about kidnapping are fantasy role-play,” Judge Gardephe said in a 118-page opinion issued late Monday.
Mr. Valle, who was convicted in March 2013, had not yet been sentenced, and his federal public defenders had asked Judge Gardephe to grant him a new trial, arguing that the Constitution allowed people — including police officers — “the right to fantasize about whatever and whomever they like, free from government interference.”
Prosecutors said Tuesday that they intended to appeal the decision, and asked that Mr. Valle continue to be detained pending that appeal. But the judge refused the request and ordered that Mr. Valle be released to home detention and post a $100,000 personal recognizance bond.
Mr. Valle, after fulfilling bond requirements, emerged from the courthouse Tuesday, expressing gratitude to his lawyers and family; his love for the staff and some inmates at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, where he has been detained since his arrest in late 2012; and his regret to “everyone who has been hurt, shocked and offended by my infantile actions.”
Judge Gardephe also ordered that Mr. Valle not use a computer or the Internet, and avoid any contact with witnesses who testified at his trial or people who prosecutors had said were targets of his kidnapping conspiracy.
Mr. Valle was to remain under strict supervision of the court’s pretrial services office, and be given a mental health evaluation and mental health treatment if deemed appropriate.
“Justice delayed in this case is not justice denied, thanks to this judge,” Mr. Valle’s father, Gil Valle-Lopez, said in the courtroom, just before the hearing began.
No women were abducted or harmed in the plot, but prosecutors told the jury that Mr. Valle had “crossed the line” while immersing himself in a fetish website, where he communicated electronically with others about how he wanted to abduct women, butcher and cook them, and eat them.
Mr. Valle’s lawyers had argued that his plot was all part of a twisted fantasy — “no more real than the alien invasion” featured in the 1938 radio drama “War of the Worlds,” one defense lawyer, Julia L. Gatto, said in her closing argument.
But federal prosecutors argued that Mr. Valle had taken “concrete steps” to further his plans, including illegally looking up potential victims in a law enforcement database, carrying out surveillance of them and using the Internet to research ways to abduct, subdue and cook potential victims.
“He left the world of fantasy; he entered the world of reality,” one prosecutor, Hadassa Waxman, said in her closing argument.
But Judge Gardephe wrote that “once the lies and the fantastical elements are stripped away, what is left are deeply disturbing misogynistic chats and emails written by an individual obsessed with imagining women he knows suffering horrific sex-related pain, terror and degradation.
“Despite the highly disturbing nature of Valle’s deviant and depraved sexual interests, his chats and emails about these interests are not sufficient — standing alone — to make out the elements of conspiracy to commit kidnapping.”
After the court proceeding, Ms. Gatto stood with other members of the defense team outside the courthouse, and expressed gratitude for the judge’s decision. “Gil Valle has been in jail for almost 21 months — seven months of that were in the indescribable hell that is solitary confinement — all for a crime he didn’t commit,” she said. The lawyer said he had been placed in isolation for his own protection, because he had been a police officer.
“He is guilty of nothing more than very unconventional thoughts, but as Gardephe has validated, we don’t put people in jail for their thoughts. We’re not the thought police, and the court system is not the deputies of the thought police,” Ms. Gatto added.United States - North America - New York City - New York