A judge has overturned the conviction of a former New York Police Department officer accused of plotting to kidnap, kill and eat young women -- including a Germantown, Maryland resident who had attended the University of Maryland with him.
Judge Paul Gardephe ruled late Monday that there was insufficient evidence to support a jury's guilty verdict in the kidnapping conspiracy conviction of Gilberto Valle.
Valle's lawyers had argued that the alleged plots were really fantasy online role play that never put anyone in harm's way.
Valle -- dubbed by the tabloids as the "Cannibal Cop" -- smiled at his family and hugged his lawyers in court on Tuesday. The judge set bail at $100,000 and ordered home detention for the defendant after prosecutors told him they intended to appeal his ruling.
"The government believes the jury got it right," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Hadassa Waxman.
Valle was convicted in March 2013 on the conspiracy charge, which carried a possible life term, and a misdemeanor count of illegally accessing a law enforcement database. He was expected to be released from jail later Tuesday and stay on home detention until he's sentenced.
During his trial, Kimberly Sauer, of Germantown, Md., who went to the University of Maryland with Valle, had nothing bad to say about her former classmate.
On cross-examination, Sauer told defense attorney Julia Gatto that she never felt threatened by Valle.
Sauer learned of the case only after she received a disturbing Facebook message from Valle's wife last year. The message arrived in the middle of the night and sounded so crazy that she texted Valle to warn that the account must have been hacked.
Either that "or you're trying to sell me into white slavery," she recalled joking in the text.
But an investigator testified that Valle's computer had a file titled "Abducting and Cooking Kimberly: A Blueprint," which included a photo of Sauer.
Sauer came up frequently as a subject in online chats between Valle and a man in Great Britain who used Moody Blues as a screen name and MeatMarketMan as part of his email address, an agent testified.
Valle, 40, "is guilty of nothing more than very unconventional thoughts," Gatto said outside court Tuesday. "We don't put people in jail for their thoughts. We are not the thought police."
A jury had concluded he wasn't just fantasizing when he conversed online with others he had never met about killing and cooking his wife and others in a cannibalism plot.
In his 118-page opinion, Gardephe said: "The evidentiary record is such that it is more likely than not the case that all of Valle's Internet communications about kidnapping are fantasy role-play."
Prosecutors had argued that Valle took steps to carry out his plot, including looking up potential targets on a restricted law enforcement database; searching the Internet for how to knock someone out with chloroform and where to get torture devices and other tools.
In one of the numerous online conversations shown to the jury during the trial, Valle told a man he met in a fetish chat room, "I want her to experience being cooked alive. She'll be trussed up like a turkey. ...She'll be terrified, screaming and crying."
In another exchange, Valle suggested a woman he knew would be easy prey because she lived alone. The men discussed cooking her, basted in olive oil, over an open fire and using her severed head as a centerpiece for a sit-down meal.
Valle was fired after his conviction.