NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — After more than two full days of deliberations, a federal jury came back Tuesday with a guilty verdict for New York City police officer Gilberto Valle on charges he plotted to kidnap, kill and cannibalize women.
Valle is set to be sentenced on June 19 and could face life in prison.
Web Extra: Gil Valle Jury Foreman Note
“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.”
Valle slumped his head, as did the entire defense team, when the verdict was announced. He stared ahead in stunned amazement as the jury of six women and six men read the verdict, and then hugged his lawyer, Julia Gatto, who said later that she had been crying.
“It’s a devastating verdict for us. We poured our hearts and souls into this,” Gatto said.
Valle’s defense team argued that the jury was swayed by emotion.
“The jury was unable to get past the thoughts,” Gatto said. “Obviously, the case involved thoughts that were unusual and bizarre and, frankly, very ugly.”
She called it a “dangerous prosecution when we start opening our minds and prosecuting what’s in our brains and not what’s in the real world.”
Defense attorneys argued that the kidnapping and cannibalization plot was nothing but fantasy, and pointed out that no women were ever harmed.
“This is the kind of case that frightens a jury,” added defense attorney Robert Baum. “We were always worried that thought would prevail over an objective, rational, non-emotional view of the evidence.”
Gatto and her team are planning their appeal, WCBS 880’s Irene Cornell reported.
Valle’s mother, Elizabeth, shook her head in disbelief, then fled the courthouse.
“I’m in shock and want to be left alone,” she said after her son was led away. She said to herself as she sat on a court bench alone: “This is going to kill my mother.”
Prosecutors argued that Valle meticulously planned for his kidnapping and cannibalization spree that was to include his own wife, Kathleen Mangan-Valle.
The prosecutors showed jurors an assortment of pieces of incriminating evidence, including Valle’s text messages with potential targets, the chats and emails between Valle and his cannibal cohorts discussing surveillance and strategy, a blueprint for abducting and cooking a woman, a recipe for chloroform, a list of dozens of targets along with a file of their pictures, and Valle’s extensive Web history.
But jurors also never heard from the five-year veteran officer himself — a potential mistake, according to one former prosecutor.
“If he had testified, he could have explained it away; could have said it was fantasizing,” Bruce Klang said.
But Valle’s attorneys said they would not second-guess their decision not to have him take the stand.
Meanwhile, CBS 2’s Jessica Schneider reported some believe the verdict sets a dangerous precedent.
“The thought that he could go to jail for life for his thoughts and his Internet searches, it’s a very frightening prospect,” said criminal defense attorney Patrick Joyce.
Joyce did not represent Valle, but he did say the fact that the government based its case mostly on Valle’s wide-ranging and detailed downloads and Internet chats is troubling.
“What they said in this case is that it was ‘real research’ — that’s what they talked about, real research,” Valle said. “Well, there’s a whole lot of people out there doing a lot of real research, and if we’re going to get convicted of it, people better be very careful before they start hitting those keys tonight.”
The jury had the case since Thursday. The deliberations had been focusing on the testimony of four women who prosecutors said Valle spoke of as targets in his online chats about kidnapping and cannibalism.
Jurors were told they would have to determine that Valle committed at least one overt act and took real steps to carry out a kidnapping plot like the ones he discussed online in order to find him guilty of the most serious charge of kidnapping conspiracy.
Prosecutors said that an analysis of Valle’s computer found he was taking concrete steps to abduct his wife and at least five other women he knew.
They said he looked up potential targets on a restricted law enforcement database, searched the Internet for how to knock someone out with chloroform and showed up on the block of one woman after agreeing to kidnap her for $5,000 for a New Jersey man, who is now awaiting trial.
The arguments capped a two-week trial in federal court. During the presentation of evidence, jurors sometimes appeared squeamish when shown sadistic images from Internet sites visited by Valle.
The officer openly wept over his wife’s testimony describing how she uncovered his late-night computer activity, fled their home with their infant child and contacted the FBI.
Valle had pleaded not guilty to the charges. He has been held without bail since his October arrest.
The NYPD said Valle was suspended when he was arrested. Officials said he will now be automatically terminated by virtue of his conviction.
Valle’s attorneys are asking the judge to set aside the verdict. Sentencing is set for June.
(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)