New York's so-called "cannibal cop" opened his defense in court Tuesday with video testimony from the Russian founder of an extreme fetish website who said that discussing eating young women was a standard online fantasy.
Sergey Merenkov described his site darkfetishnet.com, a favorite of suspended New York police Officer Gilberto Valle, as "a social network. It's very similar to Facebook."
Valle, 28, visited darkfetishnet.com to enter Internet chats with like-minded men about horrific -- but he says entirely fictional -- scenarios about torturing, murdering and cannibalizing women.
Prosecutors wrapped up their case on Monday, saying Valle should be found guilty of conspiracy to kidnap women that he discussed abducting and eating.
They showed the Manhattan federal jury gruesome pictures downloaded onto Valle's computers, including women apparently being burned. It was not always clear when a picture had been staged or not.
Lawyers for Valle, who faces up to life in prison if found guilty on the kidnapping conspiracy charge, hope to persuade the jury that he is guilty of nothing more than unusual sexual fantasies.
Court spokeswoman Stephanie Cirkovich said Valle himself would not testify, as lawyers had said he might late Monday. The trial was expected to end Wednesday or Thursday.
In his videotaped testimony from Moscow, Merenkov said the first thing any visitor to his website sees is the warning, in bold, that "this place is about fantasies only, so please play safe."
He said there were 38,000 registered members and about 4,500 who entered the site on a nearly daily basis.
The site caters for all kinds of sexual interests, barring only child pornography and zoophilia, or human sex with animals, he said, naming asphyxia-related fetishes as among the most popular.
Cannibalism was Valle's secret obsession, resulting in him spending hours every night on the computer before his wife and mother of their newborn child discovered what he was doing and fled the house last year, then told the FBI.
However, Merenkov, 34, said his site was nothing more than a place where fetishists can chat and role play "without being misunderstood."
"It doesn't mean a person can go to the meat market and purchase a woman, then devour her," he said.
Although the site is run from Moscow, 70 percent of members come from the United States and the largest other portion from western Europe, he said.