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It took a Manhattan federal jury less than three full days to return a guilty verdict for Gilberto Valle, the NYPD officer from Forest Hills charged with plotting online to kidnap, kill and eat a number of women.
After beginning deliberations late Thursday afternoon, the six-man, six-woman jury found Valle, 28, guilty Tuesday morning on the charge of conspiracy to commit kidnapping, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
The jury also rendered Valle guilty of accessing the FBI’s National Crime Information Center database.
“Today, a unanimous jury found that Gilberto Valle’s detailed and specific plans to abduct women for the purpose of committing grotesque crimes were very real, and that he was guilty as charged,” U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement. “The Internet is a forum for the free exchange of ideas, but it does not confer immunity for plotting crimes and taking steps to carry out those crimes.”
Sentencing has been set for June 19 and Larry Cunningham, an associate dean and professor at St. John’s School of Law, said the judge probably will not case Valle a break despite some contentions that his conviction was based on a weak government case.
“I think he will certainly take into account the fact that conspiracy wasn’t fruitful and no one was actually harmed here,” he said. “The counterargument for that is the police actually intervened before anything could happen. It cuts both ways for the defense.”
Valle’s wife reported him to the FBI last year after she discovered graphic pornography on his computer and what appeared to be detailed plans to kidnap and torture numerous women, some of whom were known personally.
An investigation of the computer found Internet searches for things such as rope and chloroform, extensive files on women Valle allegedly planned to target as well as chat and e-mail logs with purported co-conspirators planning to abduct women.
The question posed to the jury was whether this was mere fantasy or whether Valle took concrete steps toward making his plans reality.
“I’m just afraid of getting caught. If I were guaranteed to get away with it, I would,” said one of the e-mails prosecutor Hadassa Waxman showed jurors.
During the time period he was chatting online, Valle visited one of the women he spoke about for lunch, and sent a PBA card to another whom he had not seen in years.
The prosecution argued these were examples of “surveillance” Valle was doing on his targets.
“In doing so Officer Valle crossed the line. He left the world of fantasy and entered the world of reality,” Waxman said. “This case is not about freedom of speech or freedom of thought. It’s about planning and agreeing to hurt real women.”
The defense argued that Valle never intended to hurt anyone and accused the government of either not understanding the online fetish subculture the officer was part of or cherry picking their evidence to ignore chats that disproved their case.
“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,” said another one of Valle’s e-mails entered into evidence by the defense. “I’m just talking fantasy... No matter what I say it’s just make-believe.”
Valle’s defense argued that he never bought rope to tie women up and never made chloroform to knock out a woman.
In a number of the chats, defense attorney Julia Gatto said, Valle made agreements to abduct and deliver a woman to a man in New Jersey, first for $1,000 and then for $4,000. The deadlines for delivery would pass and no one would ever make mention of the plans again, she said.
“These chats are as much proof of an agreement as the ‘War of the Worlds’ broadcast was proof of the alien invasion,” Gatto said.
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.
©2013 Community Newspaper Group
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