- Associated Press - Monday, February 25, 2013

NEW YORK (AP) — A New York City police officer’s bizarre Internet discussion of cannibalism — what he claims was harmless fantasy — was instead a serious plot to abduct, torture and eat “very real women,” a federal prosecutor said Monday at the officer’s kidnapping conspiracy trial.

“Make no mistake,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Randall Jackson told a jury. “Gilberto Valle was very serious about these plans.”

But defense attorney Julia Gatto argued that her client “never intended to kidnap anyone.” She added, “You can’t convict people for their thoughts, even if they’re sick.”

The exchange came during opening statements in one of the strangest cases in Manhattan federal court in recent memory.

Mr. Valle, 28, is charged with conspiring to kidnap a woman and the unauthorized use of a law enforcement database, which prosecutors say he used to help build a list of potential targets. A conviction on the kidnapping count carries a possible life sentence.

A college graduate and father of a young child, MR. Valle appeared to be leading a normal life before he began acting “extremely strangely,” Mr. Jackson said.

It became clear to Mr. Valle’s wife that something was wrong, so she put a program on his computer to trace where he went online, Mr. Jackson said. Online discussions revealed his plans to “sexually assault these women … to slit their throats and detailed plans to cannibalize these women,” he said.

Once his wife reported his strange behavior to the FBI last year, agents uncovered “a heinous plot to kidnap, rape, murder and cannibalize a number of very real women,” the prosecutor said.

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

The officer, the prosecutor said, attempted to contact potential victims, including a New York City elementary school teacher, to learn more about their jobs and residences. His Internet research also included the best rope to tie someone up with, recipes, human flesh, white slavery and chemicals that can knock someone out, Mr. Jackson said.

Ms. Gatto argued that there was “no proof of a crime here. The charges are pure fiction.”

Mr. Valle, she said, had always been aroused by “unusual things” including the thought of a woman boiled down on a platter with an apple in her mouth, his lawyer said. He found a home at darkfetishnet.com with its 38,000 registered members, where they regularly discuss “suffocating women, cooking and eating them,” she said.

The government was expected to call Mr. Valle’s wife, Kathleen Mangan, as its first witness.

Before opening statements, U.S. District Judge Paul G. Gardephe set strict parameters for Mrs. Mangan’s testimony, saying she can tell a jury about discovering her husband’s morbid discussions but not about the couple’s confidential communications or about his mental condition.

Prosecutors said in court papers that Mrs. Mangan fled their home on Sept. 10, 2012, believing he was planning to kidnap, rape, torture and murder her. She also discovered that he “had similarly heinous plans for women she knew and to whom she was close,” prosecutors wrote.

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