A New York police officer was convicted on Tuesday in a bizarre plot to kidnap, torture, kill and eat women, ending a trial whose outcome hinged on the delicate legal distinction between fantasy and reality.
What’s the difference between protected speech (like online fantasies) and threats that warrant legal action?
The trial had drawn widespread attention in part because it involved a police officer’s disturbing behavior, but also because it raised a fundamental question: When does a virtual crime, contemplated in Internet chat rooms, become an actual crime?
There was no evidence that any of the women whom the officer, Gilberto Valle, was accused of plotting to kill were harmed. But prosecutors argued that the officer took actual steps to further his plot, like conducting surveillance of potential victims and researching them in a law enforcement database.
Officer Valle, 28, could be sentenced to life in prison for one count of kidnapping conspiracy.
The trial highlighted some of the darkest corners of the Internet, where fetishists hide behind Web identities like Girlmeat Hunter, which Officer Valle used, and engage in role-playing fantasy about cannibalism and sexual torture.
One of Officer Valle’s lawyers, Julia L. Gatto, called the verdict “devastating” and said the defense did not believe that the government had proved its case.
“This was a thought prosecution,” Ms. Gatto said. “These are thoughts, very ugly thoughts, but we don’t prosecute people for their thoughts. And we’ll continue to appeal and continue to fight for Mr. Valle.”
The verdict came on the 12th day of Officer Valle’s trial in United States District Court in Manhattan. He was also convicted of illegally gaining access to the law enforcement database. He faces up to five years in prison on that count, prosecutors said.
h/t New York Times