By Sarina Trangle
A federal judge overturned a former Forest Hills police officer’s conviction of plotting to kidnap, kill and eat women in a 118-page decision handed down Monday in Manhattan federal court.
The ex-cop Gilberto Valle was released on a $100,000 bail Tuesday and ordered to remain on home detention in his mother’s Middle Village home with an electronic monitoring unit and undergo mental health treatment, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office said.
The ruling, issued by Judge Paul Gardephe, granted a request from Gilberto Valle’s attorney to acquit the ex-NYPD officer of conspiracy to commit kidnapping and authorize a new trial on a charge that could bring a sentence of up to life in prison.
Gardephe, however, upheld Valle’s conviction of going beyond his authorized access while searching an FBI database for details of women prosecutors described as potential victims.
The judge concluded prosecutors’ use of Valle’s exchanges with three alleged co-conspirators in New Jersey, England and India or Pakistan on the sexual fantasy website Dark Fetish Network did not illustrate any concrete steps taken by Valle to plot kidnappings.
“This is a conspiracy that existed solely in cyberspace,” Gardephe wrote in his opinion, which came after Valle was convicted and while he was awaiting sentencing. “Dates for ‘planned’ kidnappings pass without comment, without discussion, without explanation and with no follow-up. The only plausible explanation for the lack of comment or inquiry about allegedly agreed-upon and scheduled kidnappings is that Valle and the others engaged in these chats understood that no kidnappings would actually take place.”
Prosecutors said they are considering appealing the judge’s decision.
A six-man, six-woman jury reached a guilty verdict in Valle’s case after deliberating for three days in March 2013.
Agents began investigating Valle after his wife told the FBI she found graphic pornography on his computer and what appeared to be detailed plans to kidnap and torture women.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation discovered several chats and e-mails Valle exchanged with alleged co-conspirators, extensive files on women who prosecutors said he planned to abduct and Internet searches for rope and chloroform.
Prosecutors argued Valle took concrete steps to act on his plans, including meeting one woman he discussed online for lunch and sending a Police Benevolent Association card to another.
“I’m just afraid of getting caught. If I were guaranteed to get away with it, I would,” Valle wrote in an e-mail prosecutors showed jurors.
Defense attorney Julia Gatto contended that Valle never intended to hurt women and the government ignored instances where he described his online activity as mere fantasy while culling evidence for the case.
“These chats are as much proof of an agreement as the ‘War of Worlds’ broadcast was proof of the alien invasion,” Gatto said.
Gardephe scheduled a Tuesday hearing on the status of the case.
It was not immediately clear when his case would proceed.
His conviction of overstepping his authorized access to the FBI database carries a maximum sentence of one year, according to Bharara’s office.
Reach reporter Sarina Trangle at 718-260-4546 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.