Lawyers asked a jury on Thursday to decide whether a police officer was a monster with a badge and a dangerous desire to cannibalize women or a failed family man whose disturbing fantasies ruined his life but never put anyone in jeopardy.
The jurors began deliberating after hearing the conflicting portraits of Officer Gilberto Valle in closing arguments at his kidnapping conspiracy trial. They deliberated for about an hour before going home for the day without a verdict and were to return Friday.
Valle's chats on fetish websites about abducting, torturing and eating at least six women, including his wife, "are no more real than an alien invasion," defense attorney Julia Gatto had told the jury earlier Thursday.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Hadassa Waxman said the evidence showed Valle "left the world of fantasy and entered the world of reality." The officer's actions were "no joke," she added. "It was not just sick entertainment."
In a rebuttal argument given before the jury got the case, prosecutor Randall Jackson labeled Valle "a sexually sadistic individual."
Jackson also said the alarming material uncovered by an analysis of Valle's computers was like other investigations that found people "engaging in fantastical discussions about seeing planes exploding" — a comparison that prompted the defense to ask for a mistrial, arguing he was trying to frighten the jury with a veiled reference to terrorism. The judge disagreed and denied the motion.
The arguments came at the close of a two-week trial in federal court in Manhattan that has made the baby-faced officer a tabloid sensation. Jurors sometimes appeared squeamish when shown sadistic images like a staged video of a chained, naked woman screaming as the flame of a torch was put beneath her crotch. The 28-year-old 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's arrest last year interrupted a ghoulish plan to "kidnap, torture, rape and commit other horrific acts on young women," Waxman said Thursday.
The prosecutor argued that Valle took concrete steps to further the plot — looking up potential targets on a restricted law enforcement database, searching the Internet for how to knock someone out with chloroform and showing up on the block of one woman after agreeing to kidnap her for $5,000.
Valle also viewed a clip of the slaughter of a goat, a "gruesome video ... a practical how-to guide to killing, an educational tool for Valle's killing," the prosecutor said.
At trial, the jury heard the testimony of women who knew Valle and were trading innocent-sounding emails and texts with him at the same time prosecutors say he was scheming to make meals out of them. The government also sought to drive home the point that Valle was more of a threat because he was a police officer.
"Women who wanted no part of this were put in grave danger by that man, Gilberto Valle," Waxman said.
The defense claims Valle is being prosecuted for indulging in offensive but harmless fantasies fed by visits to websites meant solely for role-play.
Gatto started her closing by reading from a 2012 Valle email saying, "I just have a world in my mind and in that world I am kidnapping women and selling them to people interested in buying them."
The attorney called her client's obsession with cannibalism a "stupid, infantile" habit that destroyed his life but not proof of a conspiracy with three other people he never met in person. The defendant, wearing a dark suit and yellow tie, again cried as his lawyer described how the case had "cost him everything," including his wife and "adorable baby."
Gatto also compared the Valle case to the infamous 1938 "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast, which, according to myth, caused some people to flee their homes. Likewise, she said, Valle's role in "dark improv theater" caused his wife to panic and set in motion a misguided prosecution.
The lawyer argued Valle's only crime was fantasizing about doing sick things to women he knew.
"That's Gil's porn," she said. "Gil has a fetish. He's had it for a long time."