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New York’s ‘Cannibal Cop’ Freed After Judge Overturns Conviction

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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Californian Wins Race As Boston Marathon Rebounds

By Michael Muskal and Tina Susman, Los Angeles Times

Californian Meb Keflezighi became the first American since 1983 to capture the men’s division of the Boston Marathon, as the city that was knocked to its knees by two bomb blasts last year rebounded Monday.

Keflezighi, who began running as a student in San Diego and became a U.S. citizen after an award-winning stint at UCLA, hung on to win the men’s division in 2:08:36. He fought to hold his lead as the racers tore down Boylston Street at the finish.

At the award ceremony, Keflezighi cried as he held the trophy, his head decorated with the symbolic laurels wreath.

Rita Jeptoo won the women’s title in record time, capturing back-to-back championships in a race showcasing the city’s resilience. Jeptoo won the race going away, becoming the seventh woman to win three marathon crowns. Her time was 2 hours, 18 minutes and 57 seconds. The previous course record was 2:20:43.

The crowd, which had been cheering since the early morning, got progressively louder as elite runners crowded the finish line. They were especially loud as members of the National Guard in fatigues sprinted down Boylston. Mark Donnellan watched the award ceremony and said he was happy with the result, especially with an American winning.

“It makes me feel patriotic,” he said.

He was standing at the same spot, near the Forum Restaurant, where he stood last year to watch his son, also named Mark, cross the finish line about a minute before the explosions. He said the crowds were about the same size. They were determined to return.

“It’s irrational to be afraid,” said the younger Mark, 27, who did not run this year.

The sky was sunny and slightly on the cooler side, good for the almost 36,000 runners who intended to brave the grueling 26.2 miles from Hopkinton, Mass., to downtown Boston. For almost a week, the city has been the scene of memorials and tributes designed to commemorate the horror of last year’s bombings, remember the dead, praise first responders and seek emotional renewal.

By about 10:45 a.m. EDT, the first finisher, one of the mobility-impaired participants, crossed the finish line. The elite women, who set a blistering pace, were approaching the halfway point, and the elite men were more than a quarter into their race. The bulk of the runners was starting in three other waves, with the last to step off at 11:25 a.m. EDT — about 35 minutes before the elite runners were likely to cross the finish line.

Participants and spectators also voiced a sense of defiance in the face of last year’s bombing. During a memorial last week, Vice President Joe Biden caught that mood, telling the audience, “We own the finish line!”

Many racers will try to get to the finish line at 2:49 p.m. EDT, the exact moment two bombs went off about 12 seconds apart on April 15, 2013.

Security was tight Monday, with thousands of uniformed police, hundreds of plainclothes officers and about 100 video cameras along the route to monitor the spectators, expected to reach 1 million — twice the usual number of people who visit Boston for the annual race on Patriots Day.

Officials asked people not to bring backpacks — last year’s bombs were hidden in backpacks — but insisted the race would be safe.

Just a year ago, Boston and its suburbs were traumatized by the explosions and the days of the manhunt that closed down one of the nation’s high-profile metropolitan areas for a day.

The bombs, located about 200 yards apart on Boylston Street, turned the finish line area to chaos. Relatives, spectators and first responders rushed to aid the fallen. Dead were Krystle Campbell, 29; Lu Lingzi, 23; and Martin Richard, 8.

AFP Photo/Timothy A. Clary

Gas Leak Cited In Explosion In East Harlem; 2 Dead

By Michael Muskal and Tina Susman, Los Angeles Times

NEW YORK — An explosion that destroyed two buildings in a busy Manhattan neighborhood and killed at least two people was caused by a gas leak, New York Mayor Bill De Blasio said Wednesday, and hours after the explosion, some people remained missing.

De Blasio called the blast “a tragedy of the worst kind.” He said Con Edison workers had been alerted to the smell of gas and were headed to the scene at Park Avenue and 116th Street before the explosion about 9:30 a.m. EDT.

“The explosion occurred before the team could arrive,” De Blasio said at a news briefing near the scene.

De Blasio and John McAvoy, chief of Con Edison, said the utility company received a call at 9:13 a.m. about a gas smell. That smell was reported in a building next to the two that were destroyed in the blast.

“Our first indication of any gas leak was at 9:13 this morning. We dispatched crews two minutes later,” McAvoy said.

The explosion occurred roughly 15 minutes after the call to Con Ed, officials said.

The mayor said two people had died and that 18 people had been injured in the incident.

“There are a number of missing individuals,” he added. He also warned the missing status only means unaccounted for.

“There will be a thorough investigation” of the entire incident that led to the five-alarm fire, the mayor pledged.

Two buildings, at 1644 and 1646 Park Ave., were involved. Television images showed smoke billowing from at least one building, near the Metro-North tracks that bring commuter trains in from the northern suburbs to Grand Central Station.

“We have no reason to believe that this is terrorism-related,” Parella said, but cautioned the scene was still active and the cause would be investigated.

Police said two people, both women, were killed. No other details were available

Seventeen people were taken to hospitals with injuries ranging from minor to serious, police said.

A Harlem Hospital spokesman told reporters there was one patient so far in a “condition reported as serious trauma,” but more were expected.

Both police and fire departments responded to the initial reports. The bomb squad was also sent in as a precaution.

The area, on the east side of Manhattan, is part of East Harlem. A church is in the neighborhood, along with a piano store with apartments above, as seen in television images.

More than 90 minutes after the initial call, smoke was still billowing from the buildings, next to the elevated tracks used by Metro-North. The MTA said service on the New Haven and Harlem lines into and out of Grand Central was temporarily delayed until further notice “due to police activity.”

Residents told television reporters they heard the explosion that shattered windows several blocks away. Images showed one five-story building reduced to rubble, and a second building heavily damaged.

Eoin Hayes, 26, said the explosion shook his entire apartment building in Harlem about 9:30 a.m. He ran to the window and saw flames consuming one building and smoke rising into the air.

“I was in my bedroom and the explosion went off; it kind of shook the whole building,” Hayes said. “You could feel the vibrations going through the building.”

AFP Photo/Andrew Burton