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Jurors begin deliberations in New York "cannibal cop" case

Former New York City police officer Gilberto Valle (L), dubbed by local media as the "Cannibal Cop", listens as his wife Kathleen Mangan tes
Former New York City police officer Gilberto Valle (L), dubbed by local media as the "Cannibal Cop", listens as his wife Kathleen Mangan tes

By Chris Francescani

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City's accused "cannibal cop" crossed the line from fantasy to reality in plotting to kidnap, cook and eat women, a federal prosecutor told a jury in closing arguments on Thursday.

Defense attorney Julia Gatto countered in summations that her client was playing a fantasy role online, and told jurors "we don't convict human beings because of ugly thoughts ... even if they are police officers."

In a case featuring grisly testimony, New York City Police Officer Gilberto Valle, 28, has pleaded not guilty to a charge of conspiring to kidnap and a charge of improperly accessing a law enforcement database to gather personal information about potential targets.

The jury of six women and six men deliberated for several hours after closing arguments without reaching a verdict. They are due to resume deliberations on Friday morning at the District Court in Manhattan.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Hadassa Waxman said in her closing argument that Valle was at one point engaged in fantasy, but that his intentions had grown more sinister.

Pointing to his extensive online research on kidnapping, making chloroform and cooking women, she said: "These are real searches conducted to carry out real research to kidnap real women."

"This case is not about freedom of speech, or freedom of thought," Waxman told jurors. Fetish websites "are not on trial here. This is about Gilberto Valle's plans to hurt young women."

But defense attorney Gatto compared Valle's online activity to Orson Welles' "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast on October 30, 1938, which many Americans mistook for a real alien invasion.

Valle's role play "was set up to sound as real as it could, sprinkled with real details," she said.

When others come across it, Gatto said, "panic ensues, because they think it's real ... but it's all make believe."

Gatto told jurors that after nearly a year of fantasizing about roughly two dozen women - in many cases, discussing kidnapping with other fetishists - none of the plotters had ever met, exchanged money or committed any crimes.

Valle, dubbed the "cannibal cop" by the tabloid media, did not testify.

The trial has brought to light a macabre community of cyberspace where millions of people discuss and exchange images and video of extraordinary brutality, much of it staged.

On Tuesday, defense attorneys took jurors on a video tour of DarkFetishNet.com, a website at the heart of Valle's case.

The website functions like mainstream social media networks and its creator, Russian Web entrepreneur Sergay Merenkov, likened it to Facebook in a videotaped deposition earlier in the week. However, instead of family photos and cat videos, members share photos and videos of extreme cruelty - including rape and asphyxiation - with the goal of sexual stimulation.

Members dream up brutally violent scripts, said Merenkov, who has kicked members off the site when "it seemed not to be fantasy anymore."

Prosecutors said Valle revealed himself to be such a person when he began taking steps to act on his fantasies.

(Editing by Daniel Trotta, Barbara Goldberg, Bernadette Baum, G Crosse)

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