Gilberto Valle, formerly one of New York’s Finest, is assuredly one of New York’s sickest.
He is on trial for conspiring to kidnap women, intending to slow-roast and eat them.
He engaged in online discussions about the practical difficulties in fitting a living, grown woman into a kitchen oven (“fold the legs”).
His defense attorney argues these were merely fantasies, a type of improvisation theater with others who share his tastes, and he never intended to act on them.
Neither the “ewww” factor, nor the buffet of food puns, should obscure the serious legal question raised by the case — what distinguishes a fantasy from a criminal conspiracy?
Was Valle’s online agreement with anonymous online others to kidnap and cook actually serious, or as a defense expert will testify, “just part of Internet role-playing … intended to allow its participants to express their imaginations freely?”
After all, big chunks of the Internet cater to those who enjoy discussing and simulating some pretty dark stuff involving rape, torture, dismemberment and bondage (although the latter has gained some middle-class respectability thanks to the “Fifty Shades” trilogy).
Valle never laid a hand, let alone a fork, on anyone. Most of us imagine, and sometimes discuss, things we would never do.
And the First Amendment gives us the right to be sick puppies.
Conspiracy is a tricky crime for cops; they must catch the suspect before his talk ripens into action, but not so early that one is arrested for only expressing desires.
When, as here, delay might endanger innocent life, the police act sooner, rather than trailing Valle and arresting him as he tucks in his napkin.
The most convincing proof that Valle intended to carry out his plan is evidence he unlawfully accessed a restricted police database to obtain information about an intended victim.
Expect the prosecution to argue this action goes beyond play-acting and is an overt act showing the bona fides of his intent.
In turn, the defense can assert tracking down one’s fantasy victim makes the “play” so much more lifelike, enhancing its prurient value.
In the absence of evidence that Valle actually did something to someone, we are left without guidance, exploring the murky parts of his mind.
In truth, whether Valle would have carried out his fantasies is unknowable to us and probably unknowable to him.
But juries do not want to release scary perverts, they want to put scary perverts in jail.
And in this case, they probably will, no matter what the law dictates.
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