Gilberto Valle, the NYPD officer who was arrested in October 2012 after plotting online to kidnap, torture and cook multiple women, including his wife, has had his conviction overturned by a federal judge. The New York Times was first to report that U.S. District Judge Paul G. Gardephe had acquitted Valle on charges of kidnapping conspiracy, for which he was facing life in prison after being convicted in March of 2013.
Valle’s lawyers, both public defenders from the Federal Defenders of New York, had been pushing the judge to grant him a new trial. In his ruling, according to the NYT, Gardephe wrote that the evidence in the case suggests that is “more likely than not” that Valle’s online chats, in which he fantasized about spit-roasting various ladies, “are fantasy role-play.”
Valle’s case launched an enormous debate about offensive speech and how it should be protected under the First Amendment. It also generated a Law and Order: SVU episode, “Thought Criminal,” about a photographer who fantastizes about kidnapping and torturing children. In the episode, though, the photographer builds a large and elaborate torture chamber, while Valle confined himself to online chatting. As an American Civil Liberties Union policy advisor pointed out in a Times debate , fantasizing about doing something criminal is legal, provided it doesn’t cross the line into a “true threat.”
Prosecutors in Valle’s case argued that he’d vaulted over that line, with lead prosecutor Randall W. Jackson telling the jury Valle had engaged in “detailed strategic conversations about real women he has identified.” Those women included Valle’s wife, Kathleen Mangan-Valle, who testified that she uncovered her husband’s extracurricular interests after noticing a fetish website, Darkfetishnet.com, on his computer search history. She followed the link and found a photograph of a female corpse. Then she found his chats with other members of the Dark Fetish community.
“I was thinking of tying her body onto some kind of apparatus & cook her over a low heat, keep her alive as long as possible,” he told one of his chat buddies. He’d also googled terms like “how to kidnap a woman” and “human meat recipe,” according to the Daily News.
Judge Gardephe upheld a lesser conviction, illegally gaining access to a law enforcement database, a misdemeanor whose maximum penalty is one year. Valle was fired almost immediately after the NYPD learned of the allegations (with then-commissioner Ray Kelly issuing a statement calling it “a bizarre case.”) Valle has already served more than a year in jail. The judge has called a hearing for this morning, at which he’ll likely be released.
3:30 p.m. Valle was released this afternoon. The Associated Press reports he offered an apology outside the courtroom to ” anyone who was hurt, shocked or offended by my infantile actions.”
We’ve included the full opinion from Judge Gardephe on the following page. It’s 118 pages, and not recommended for mealtime reading.