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By Michael Muskal and Tina Susman, Los Angeles Times

NEW YORK — A federal judge in New York has overturned the conviction of a former New York cop after he was found guilty of what prosecutors said was a plot to kidnap and eat young women.
U.S. District Court Judge Paul G. Gardephe delivered a verdict of acquittal on the most serious count against former officer Gilberto Valle, who was released Tuesday afternoon. Valle had been convicted of conspiracy to commit kidnapping, which could have brought him a sentence of life in prison.

In his ruling, the judge also set bail at $100,000 for Valle, 40.

The ex-cop publicly apologized outside court “to anyone who was hurt, shocked or offended by my infantile actions.”

Valle was also convicted of illegally gaining access to a law enforcement database, a charge that carries a penalty of one year in prison. The judge did not overturn that verdict.

The case, dubbed by New York tabloids as that of the “Cannibal Cop,” tried to bridge the chasm between digital fantasy, where violence and fetishism ran wild, and the real world, where nothing took place except for computer keys tapping and clicks on computer homepages.

“The highly unusual facts of this reflect the Internet age in which we live,” Gardephe wrote in his 118-page ruling released late Monday and finalized in court Tuesday morning.

Valle and his three alleged co-conspirators met on Dark Fetish Network, a fantasy sexual fetish website. He and the others chatted about committing acts of sexual violence against women, some of whose pictures Valle posted on the website. The pictures, taken from Facebook, included his wife, her colleagues from work, and his college friends, according to court papers.

“He left the world of fantasy; he entered the world of reality,” one prosecutor, Hadassa Waxman, had said in her closing argument.

Valle was convicted last March after the jury concluded he was more than just fantasizing when he and others discussed killing and cooking his wife and others.

But Gardephe wrote that “once the lies and the fantastical elements are stripped away, what is left are deeply disturbing misogynistic chats and emails written by an individual obsessed with imagining women he knows suffering horrific sex-related pain, terror, and degradation.”

“Although the alleged conspiracy lasted nearly a year, all communications between Valle and his co-conspirators in New Jersey, India, or Pakistan, and England took place over the Internet,” the judge wrote. “None of the conspirators ever met or took steps to meet, nor did they ever speak by telephone.

“This is a conspiracy that existed solely in cyberspace,” he ruled.

Julia Gatto, Valle’s attorney, said outside federal court that she was happy.

“We don’t put people in jail for their thoughts. We are not the thought police,” she said.

“It validates what we’ve been saying since the very beginning of this case. He is guilty of nothing more than very unconventional thoughts.”

Valle was in prison nearly 21 months. Seven of those months had been “in the indescribable hell that is solitary confinement,” Gatto said.

Susman reported from New York and Muskal from Los Angeles.

AFP Photo/Scott Olson

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