Jury finds New York 'cannibal cop' guilty

New York's so-called "cannibal cop" was found guilty Tuesday of plotting to kidnap the young women he had fantasized about eating, after four days of jury deliberations in a US federal court.

Gilberto Valle, 28, faces a possible life sentence. The case has riveted the Big Apple tabloid press and raised questions about freedom of speech. No women were harmed, and Valle's defense argued he merely had disturbing fantasies.

Sentencing has been set for June 19 in the Manhattan federal court.

"Today, 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, and that he was guilty as charged," US Attorney Preet Bharara said.

"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 prosecutor warned.

Valle visited websites dedicated to extreme sexual fantasies, and shared with other death porn enthusiasts his plans to abduct women, including his wife, boasting that he would torture, kill and eat them.

During the trial, which opened on February 25 with gripping testimony from his estranged wife, prosecutors argued that Valle -- a six-year veteran of the New York Police Department -- did more than just fantasize.

"Officer Valle crossed the line. He left the world of fantasy. He entered the world of reality and, thankfully, he was stopped before he could act," Assistant US Attorney Hadassa Waxman said.

An FBI agent testified that he found hundreds of downloaded pages on Valle's computer about rape, torture and cannibalism.

"The evidence in this case is overwhelming," US Attorney Randall Jackson told the jury, almost shouting at times. "He has no right at this point to ask you to bail him out."

Valle allegedly had drawn up a detailed list of his potential victims including his wife, friends and other acquaintances of the couple, who have a daughter.

His estranged wife, 27-year-old Kathleen Mangan-Valle, sobbed as she told the court she had found "thousands of emails" her husband exchanged with other like-minded fetishists and that he had shared photos of people they knew.

"Suddenly I was staring at pictures of me, at pictures of friends," said Mangan-Valle, who eventually turned her husband over to the FBI.

"I was going to be tied up by my feet and my wrists and my throat slit and they were going to watch the blood drain out of me," she said, discussing one plan for her she found online.

But Valle's attorney Julia Gatto said her client was guilty of nothing more than having disturbing thoughts.

"We don't convict human beings just because of ugly thoughts," she said last week in her closing arguments.

"They want you to convict, not because there's proof, but because you won't like the way his mind works," Gatto added, describing Valle as a "nice, non-violent man."

Shocking images from fetish websites were shown to the jury, but the founder of one of those sites, Sergey Merenkov, said the ideas discussed were typical and compared the forum to Facebook or another online social network.

But Jackson said that free speech could no longer used as a defense when a defendant had crossed over into planning acts that "will actually place real people in harm."