Last year NYPD officer Gilberto Valle was found guilty of plotting to kidnap, rape, and cannibalize his wife and five other women he knew, though he never actually harmed anyone. Prosecutors argued that he was preparing to turn his gruesome online chats with other cannibalism enthusiasts into a reality, but on Monday a federal judge disagreed. The New York Times reports that Judge Paul G. Gardephe of Federal District Court in Manhattan has overturned Valle's conviction on kidnapping conspiracy, which could have carried a life sentence. He wrote that "it is more likely than not the case that all of Valle’s internet communications about kidnapping are fantasy role-play." (Robert Kolker examined the difficult question of when awful thoughts become criminal actions in detail in a New York feature on the case.)
The prosecution argued that Valle took steps to carry out his plans, such as gathering information on his potential victims using a law enforcement database, watching one of the women at her home, and researching ways to kidnap and cook people. "The evidence proves beyond a reasonable doubt that Officer Valle's plans were real, that he was serious, that he was not just entertaining himself," a prosecutor said. "He would have carried out a plan if he thought he could get away with it."
In his ruling, Judge Gardephe wrote that prosecutors failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Valle had entered into a "genuine agreement" with his online acquaintances to kidnap the women. "Despite the highly disturbing nature of Valle’s deviant and depraved sexual interests, his chats and emails about these interests are not sufficient — standing alone — to make out the elements of conspiracy to commit kidnapping," he said.
Gardephe upheld Valle's conviction for illegally gaining access to a law enforcement database, which carries a maximum sentence of one year, and set a hearing for Tuesday to discuss the status of the case. The news broke early on Tuesday morning, so we may have to wait until tomorrow to see "Cannibal Cop's" return to the tabloid covers. Try to save them a few good puns.