A New York City police officer was found guilty Tuesday of planning to kidnap and eat young women after a lurid trial which exposed an underground network of cannibal fantasists.
Gilberto Valle, 28, dubbed the "cannibal cop," faces a possible life sentence after a sensational trial that transfixed the Big Apple's tabloid press and generated global headlines as horrific details of the case emerged.
Valle's lawyers argued that the policeman had merely been guilty of sick online fantasies as he scoured websites catering to the gruesome peccadillos of so-called "death-porn" enthusiasts.
However prosecutors said Valle had "crossed the line" from fantasy to reality and was actively planning to act out his online plot, even if no women were ever harmed.
Valle, whose wife was among the women he fantasized about killing and eating, will be sentenced on 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, boasting that he would torture, kill and eat them.
During the trial, which opened on February 25 with gripping testimony from his now 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.
Valle had drawn up a detailed list of his potential victims including friends and other acquaintances.
Valle's 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, with whom she has a daughter, 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 that 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, 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.
Valle's case led to the arrest of two men in Britain last month for conspiracy offenses, grooming and possession of child abuse images.