When Internet Fantasies Become Criminal

by Diane Dimond on March 18, 2013

A Cop With Death Fantasies

The “Cannibal Cop” Case was not really about free speech.  But it raises the question: When Does Internet Fantasy Become Criminal?

In case you hadn’t heard about it – it was a bizarre criminal case sensationalized by both the media and the defense team. Slogans and spin were tossed about so fast and furiously that the real facts of the case were hard to determine. At the core of the federal case a very important issue: when do thoughts expressed in internet chat rooms become fodder for criminal prosecution? Could something you write on-line be used against you in a court of law?

From the get-go reporters branded the defendant in this case, New York Police officer Gilberto Valle, “The Cannibal Cop” – a man who used the internet to feed his vile fantasies and conspire with others to kidnap, cook and eat female victims.

Attorneys for Valle maintained federal prosecutors were trying to convict their client, “For his thoughts … his (written) fantasies,” and not for any bona fide criminal activity.

Julia Gallo, Attorney for the Accused

I was ready to be outraged at the idea that the feds were trying to convict someone based solely on rambling cyber writings no matter how despicable they might have been. I latched on to a line in the closing argument of defense attorney Julia Gatto when she said, “This prosecution rests on the ugliness of Gil’s thoughts. We don’t convict human beings because of ugly thoughts.”

It turns out neither characterization was accurate. This “Cannibal Cop” hadn’t cannibalized anyone. No human being was physically hurt although Valle’s wife was emotionally destroyed when she stumbled across graphic and incriminating information on her new husband’s computer. (She immediately left home taking their baby daughter with her and contacted the FBI to report what she had found.)

And, as the evidence revealed in court it wasn’t just “fantasy role playing,” as Valle’s defense team would have had the jury believe. There was plenty of evidence gathered by federal investigators which revealed blatant overt acts committed by Valle in furtherance of the crimes of kidnapping and maybe even attempted murder. An FBI agent who spoke with Valle after his arrest testified that the defendant had admitted his cyber fantasy life was “bleeding” over into his real life.

Valle Holding Baby Daughter

To summarize the prosecutor’s court case: Officer Valle — married just three months — had long corresponded with other “death fetishists” worldwide about his potential kidnap victims, torturous forms of cooking prey and elaborate dining plans with the head of the female victim used as a centerpiece. He listed among his intended victims his wife, two college friends and a local high school softball star.

Valle’s explicit e-mails to fellow fetishists outlined in gruesome and sick detail his plans for the targeted women once he had captured and trussed them. He wrote of cooking rotisseries, wanting to hear his victims scream and cry out in pain and how he drooled over seeing one of his potential victims during a week-end brunch date with his wife. He wrote that he longed, “for the day I cram a chloroform-soaked rag in her face.” The prosecution described Valle as a “sexual sadist” and said that brunch was Valle’s way of conducting surveillance of an intended victim.

Officer Valle’s e-mail correspondence with a New Jersey man revealed he had agreed to take $5,000 in exchange for kidnapping a specific victim for him and there was testimony that officer Valle had been seen in that woman’s neighborhood, on her block, conducting surveillance on her home. (That New Jersey man has also been arrested and is currently awaiting trial.)

Mrs. Valle After Testifying in Court

There was also evidence presented to the six-man six-woman jury that Officer Valle had illegally accessed both the NYPD and a federal data base to gather personal information about his intended female targets. Records of his internet searches were there for all to see with specific dates and times attached.

When the defense described this case with the snappy description of being a, “thought prosecution” –and when other defense attorneys jumped in to warn that all of us should worry that anything we write on line could be used against us – I had to hope that discerning consumers of news could see through the bluster. What was the defense team really saying – that prosecutors had no right to act unless Valle had actually killed and cannibalized some poor, unsuspecting woman? To my mind that is some kind of tortured thinking all on its own.

The fact? Valle faced no “thought charges. “ There were only two counts: Conspiring to kidnap and accessing a federal data base without authorization. Neither charge was based solely on his inner thoughts or his disgusting writings. And, the jury obviously felt there was enough evidence that he had taken concrete actions toward committing a crime to find him guilty on both counts.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara

After the verdict U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement: “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 … 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 team has announced it will appeal Valle’s conviction and so you will likely hear more about how the government is out to violate your rights or to turn your internet chats against you. Don’t be fooled. I’m confident that our freedoms of speech, writing and thought are safe and sound.



Diane Dimond March 19, 2013 at 12:10 pm

Facebook Friend Anthony Flacco writes:

“Next we’ll hear about a murderer suing his victim for having the audacity to impale himself on the murder’s knife — and winning the lawsuit.”

Diane Dimond March 19, 2013 at 12:19 pm

Facebook Friend (and Lawyer) Jack Furlong writes:

“Diane, calm down, there actually is a fine line between fantasy and reality.Sick and criminal are not always the same thing.”

Diane Dimond March 19, 2013 at 12:20 pm

Dear Jack:

My point exactly, Jack.
Officer Valle didn’t just think sick thoughts – he acted upon them. He named his female targets in e-mails to other fetishists, he illegally accessed a federal data bank to collect personal information on the targets, he agreed to take 5k from a NJ man who contracted with Valle to kidnap a woman so he could rape and kill her. Valle took overt steps to make his fantasies a reality.
You may have missed the point of the column: Valle’s defense lawyers want this to be about freedom of speech and thought. It was no such thing. He was charged with attempted kidnapping and accessing a federal data base….both of which were proven to the satisfaction of the jury. ~ DD

Diane Dimond March 20, 2013 at 9:57 am

Jack Furlong replies:

“Jack Furlong · Friends with Steve Adubato and 1 other
Diane, I read your column closely, and I think you nailed the essence of the case: conspiracy to kidnap and illegal access of a federal data site. And this case was fact sensitive, told to a jury, and resolved via the jury process, all of which I applaud. I worry, though, about our collective tendency to prosecute words and talk in the absence of overt acts. It is not a crime to say “I’m going to shoot you, (see comment above)” unless you are talking to the president. Keep a sharp eye on this slippery slope; right now it’s sex fantasists, terrorist wannabes, and Tibetan dissidents. Tomorrow, it might be you…”

Diane Dimond March 20, 2013 at 9:58 am

Dear Jack:
I get your point, Jack. Honestly, I do. I’ve been all about the First Amendment my whole career. And I agree we are on a slippery slope – especially when we overreact and suspend first graders for cutting their sandwich into the shape of a gun or a kindergarten boy stealing a kiss from a little girl. In the Officer Valle case,however, no matter his vile thoughts and fantasies – he clearly broke the law by accessing that federal data base and by using the information to conduct surveillance in the neighborhood of the woman his NJ contact had hired him to kidnap. I bristle at Defense Attorney types twisting things into a knot as they create a red herring that has little to do with the case at hand. Valle’s attorney’s said over and over and over again that he was being prosecuted for his “ugly thoughts.” No he wasn’t. He was clearly charged for two overt actions he took.
Good discussion, this!” ~ DD

Diane Dimond March 19, 2013 at 12:21 pm

Twitter Pal DetectiveJones7 writes:

” @DiDimond If their claim was true, it’s an admission of their ineffective & substandard representation. He was convicted because he’s guilty.”

Diane Dimond March 19, 2013 at 12:22 pm

Twitter pal julieparisi1 writes;

“@DiDimond happy this psycho is going away #no serialkillers plz.”

Diane Dimond March 19, 2013 at 12:23 pm

Facebook Friend Darryl DuPont writes:

“I just dont understand this fetish exchange on the internet at all. All are planning crimes? or are they seeing who can shock the others more? ( I’m 6’5″ = serves 4 with vegtables.”

Diane Dimond March 19, 2013 at 12:24 pm

Facebook Friend Tammy Morris Prather writes:

“Oh my gosh. thinking about something and actually moving into doing it are a whisper apart. this man needs help.

if it’s a crime to say “I’m going to shoot you,” how can it not be a crime to say, “I’m going to stock my freezer with you and have you for dinner.”???

Diane Dimond March 22, 2013 at 3:48 pm

Huffington Post Reader kwint writes:

“In effect, they stopped him before he could commit any of these
‘fantasy acts’ by using the system correctly. Bravo!”

Diane Dimond March 22, 2013 at 3:49 pm

Huffington Post Reader SpeciousRule writes:

“From reading the headline the opening chords to Karma Police rang in my mind. After reading the story, not so much. Good job nailing this guy, he was a movie of the week in the making…”

Diane Dimond March 25, 2013 at 10:54 pm

Huffington Post Reader Jonathan Blank writes:

“They still used all of his free speech as evidence against him, most men who actually abuse their wives don’t get as much jail time as he is likely going to get. All he probably needed was a wake up call and some intensive counselling instead we will spend a half million to lock him away. What ever happened to rehabilitation.”

Diane Dimond March 25, 2013 at 10:56 pm

Huffington Post Reader cafebeege writes:

“Ahhh Jonathan…….psychopaths are NOT rehabilitatable.

There is something called “profiling”. And they did not use “his free speech” as evidence, they used it TO SPOT a psychopath, and then investigate and collect evidence that could be used to convict him. Thank God. It prevented a murder or murders. If this “man” is ever let out, there will be murders. He DEFINED HIMSELF by his OWN WORDS, CHOICES and ACTIONS.

Law enforcement hopefully WILL use the new technology to spot these deviants more easily than ever before, before they can commit their horrific crimes. Good job on all concerned !!!”

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