NEW YORK - Police Officer Gilberto Valle's lawyers said he was just spinning sick and twisted fantasies for his own pleasure when he chatted online about abducting, roasting and eating women. A jury, though, decided he was deadly serious.
Valle, 28, was convicted Tuesday of conspiracy in a macabre case that opened a window on a shocking Internet world of cannibalism fetishists. He could get life in prison at sentencing June 19 but is likely to face much less.
His lawyers branded the outcome a "thought prosecution" that sets a dangerous precedent, while federal prosecutors said the verdict proved that Valle crossed the line from fantasy to reality and was genuinely bent on committing "grotesque crimes."
Valle slumped in his chair, dropped his head and wept when the verdict in what the tabloids dubbed the "Cannibal Cop" trial was announced after more than two days of deliberations: guilty of conspiracy to commit kidnapping and guilty of illegally using a police database.
The jurors left the courthouse without comment. Most did not immediately respond to emails and phone messages or declined to discuss the case.
Valle's mother, Elizabeth, shook her head.
"I'm in shock and want to be left alone," she said. As she sat on a wooden bench after almost everyone had left the courtroom, she said loudly: "This is going to kill my mother."
Prosecutors said Valle plotted in lusty, lip-smacking detail to abduct, torture and cannibalize six women he knew, including his wife. While none of the women were ever harmed - and only his wife discovered his schemes - prosecutors said he took concrete steps to carry out his plot.
They said the New York City police officer looked up potential targets on a restricted law enforcement database; searched the Internet for how to knock someone out with chloroform and where to get torture devices and other tools; and showed up on a woman's block after striking an agreement to kidnap her for $5,000 for a New Jersey man who wanted to rape and kill her. That man was also arrested and is awaiting trial.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement: "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. 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."
The defense insisted all along that he was just fantasizing and never intended to harm any of the women.
"This was a thought prosecution," his attorney Julia Gatto said outside court after the verdict. "Obviously, the case involved thoughts that were unusual and bizarre and frankly very ugly. We think that the jury couldn't get past that and they never got to the law."
Another Valle lawyer, Robert Baum, said of the verdict: "It sets a dangerous precedent."
In one of the numerous online conversations shown to the jury, Valle told a man he met in a fetish chat room, "I want her to experience being cooked alive. She'll be trussed up like a turkey. ... She'll be terrified, screaming and crying."
In another exchange, Valle suggested a woman he knew would be easy prey because she lived alone. The men discussed cooking her, basted in olive oil, over an open fire and using her severed head as a centerpiece for a sit-down meal.
"I'm dying to eat some girl meat," Valle mused in yet another exchange.
During the trial, Valle's wife tearfully testified that she fled the couple's home with her baby and contacted the FBI after putting Internet tracking software on his computer and discovering what he was up to.
Members of the jury recoiled upon seeing what appeared to be mostly staged Internet images from a sexual fetish site Valle visited. The images included photos of wide-eyed women with apples stuffed in their mouths like roasted pigs and a video of a chained, naked woman screaming as flames appeared to scorch her crotch.
Marcellus McRae, a former federal prosecutor in Los Angeles now in private practice, said it was a stretch by the defense to claim Valle was prosecuted for his thoughts because the jurors were required to find that he took one or more concrete steps to carry out the conspiracy.
"It's not just a thought crime. It's a thought-and-action crime and conviction," he said.