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Crime Your Rights Online

Judge Frees "Cannibal Cop" Who Shared His Fantasies Online 185

Posted by timothy
from the not-my-first-choice-for-babysitter dept.
AthanasiusKircher (1333179) writes The story is classic: Boy meets Girl. Boy likes Girl. Boy goes on the internet and writes about his fantasies that involve killing and eating Girl. Boy goes to jail. In this case, the man in question, NYC police officer Gilberto Valle, didn't act on his fantasies — he just shared them in a like-minded internet forum. Yesterday, Valle was released from jail after a judge overturned his conviction on appeal. U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe wrote that Valle was "guilty of nothing more than very unconventional thoughts... We don't put people in jail for their thoughts. We are not the thought police and the court system is not the deputy of the thought police." The judge concluded that there was insufficient evidence, since "this is a conspiracy that existed solely in cyberspace" and "no reasonable juror could have found that Valle actually intended to kidnap a woman... the point of the chats was mutual fantasizing about committing acts of sexual violence on certain women." (A New York magazine article covered the details of the case and the implications of the original conviction earlier this year.)
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Judge Frees "Cannibal Cop" Who Shared His Fantasies Online

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  • by 3.5 stripes (578410) on Thursday July 03, 2014 @11:38AM (#47376793)

    That's fairly surprising, and really quite reasonable.

    • by fermion (181285) on Thursday July 03, 2014 @11:58AM (#47377039) Homepage Journal
      It is because he was a cop. Recall that people have sent to jail for creating 'terrorist fantasies' because the FBI gave them the means and opportunity to carry out the fantasy. The courts do and have sent people to jail for fantasies. It is called conspiracy. In this case the fantasy targeted specific females, while the cop had means and opportunities to make those fantasies a reality. Remember that he went as far as using the police database to compile a list of real women he fantasized of eating, and was convicted for misuse of that database, so the fact this was moving out of fantasy has been proven. This is not a flight of reason. I am sure if a common person used a database to collect information on the judge or the judge's family and then wrote a detailed plan of how the family was to be murdered, we would not be getting of with a simple misuse of private information. This is clearly another case of no consequences for cops who break the law.
      • by maz2331 (1104901)

        The arrests for terrorism only happen when there is an overt act taken in the real world (aka "meatspace") where an actual attempt is made to do damage. The cops just ensure that the damage isn't actually possible, but the target of their investigation doesn't know that.

        That said, those cases do need to be very carefully reviewed for entrapment concerns. If the cops are coercing or near-brainwashing someone with a weak personality into doing something that they wouldn't otherwise do then there is a big pr

        • I would think the fantasizing, "I am going to have to use the database to find someone who fits these parameters" would be the fantasy, and actually using the database to find someone who meets the target requirements would be the overt act.

          • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 03, 2014 @01:00PM (#47377669)

            I would think the fantasizing, "I am going to have to use the database to find someone who fits these parameters" would be the fantasy, and actually using the database to find someone who meets the target requirements would be the overt act.

            Except that's not what happened, at least according to what I've read. He used the database not to FIND victims, but to look up personal information about women he already knew. It's still abuse of police power, and he should be punished for that (and was).

            The question is whether he ever appeared to use that information in any way that would further his supposed "conspiracy." And the actual evidence says that not only did he NOT use that information to plan attacks, but he deliberately kept that information to himself. He never shared any information from the databases with his supposed "co-conspirators," and in fact deliberately changed up personal details of the supposed "victims" (including mixing in false things with true) when he posted about his fantasies.

            If he were actually trying to use this information to plan an elaborate plot to kill people, why would he intentionally avoid sharing this (illegally-obtained) information with his "conspirators" and why would he feed them false information? On the other hand, if he was a generally law-abiding cop who felt guilty about his inappropriate access to personal data and actually wanted to be sure his "conspirators" never went too far, his behavior makes perfect sense.

            Furthermore, in terms of "overt acts," one needs to consider the history of all of these "plots." There were many, many "plots" hatched, dates mentioned, all sorts of details given, but there's no evidence that any of these actors in the "conspiracy" ever actually took actions in the real world to make any of these detailed plots possible. This would suggest that there was no intention to actually carry out most of these "plots," and the burden of proof is on the prosecutor to prove that some particular plot was ever actually serious and set in motion... since in context, it's clear the default was that the plots were fantasy.

        • In a conspiracy charge, the overt act doesn't have to be harmful or illegal in itself, and AFAICT they are not properly reviewed for entrapment. In this case, the perp did indeed look up information on women he fantasized about, and there have been conspiracy convictions with more innocuous overt acts.

      • Presumably he'll get some sort of mandatory time in front of a psychiatrist to make sure he's fit for active duty.

      • by jma05 (897351)

        Your sig: "Eat Locals!" somehow does not go well with the case you just argued :-).

        > I am sure if a common person used a database to collect information on the judge or the judge's family and then wrote a detailed plan of how the family was to be murdered, we would not be getting of with a simple misuse of private information.

        Which is why the law will not allow that judge to take up that case because he will no longer be able to judge objectively. That argument... what if he did it to the judge?... is n

      • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Thursday July 03, 2014 @04:44PM (#47379593)

        The courts do and have sent people to jail for fantasies. It is called conspiracy.

        NO.

        As this judge correctly pointed out, there is a difference between discussing fantasies and conspiracy. One is mere thoughts, or discussion of ideas. The other requires not just an agreement among parties to do something specific, in the Unites States almost always an "overt act" must be carried out to make it actual conspiracy.

        For example: two guys discuss for years that they want to rob the rich guy down the street. As long as they are just talking, they haven't broken any laws. They can plan all they want to. They can fantasize about using bombs, shotguns, pitchforks, or whatever the hell they please in order to do the job. But as soon as they meet in a parking lot to go do it, or one of them starts building one of the discussed bombs in his basement, they are guilty of conspiracy.

        The point is: in the U.S. you generally have freedom of speech and you can say pretty much whatever you want. But as soon as you ACT to carry out some crime you were discussing with someone, you are guilty of conspiracy. THAT is the difference between "thought crime" and actual crime.

        Wikipedia puts it this way:

        Under most U.S. laws, for a person to be convicted of conspiracy not only must he or she agree to commit a crime, but at least one of the conspirators must commit an overt act...

      • by jthill (303417)

        It is because he was a cop

        Nope. [wikipedia.org]. This has happened before, it will happen again. There's a substantial cultural skein in this country that thinks feeling threatened should be enough to jail the cause. Judges, fortunately, still know that thoughts are not crimes. Expressing thoughts is not a crime. Desires are not crimes. Expressing desires is not a crime. Somebody claiming they feel threatened by you does not constitute you making a threat. Making a threat is a crime. Somebody saying "if Obama shows up, somebody's going to shoot

    • Yes, now let's hope that they extend the result of this ruling to apply to all citizens, not just ones in employ of the King (by which I mean the government).

    • I'm not so sure... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by s.petry (762400) on Thursday July 03, 2014 @12:34PM (#47377395)

      If this was just a guy posting trash on Facebook I'd probably side with you. If you read the details of the case, you will find that this is not just someone ranting. This appears to be someone conspiring to commit rape, murder, and kidnapping.

      Whether the primary web site has a disclaimer or not, does not change the fact that this goes beyond the simple act of writing about a sick fantasy. He offered to kidnap someone for 5,000.00. He went and found a recipe for chloroform, then built a pulley system to string up one of the people he was talking about kidnapping and murdering. He used a Police database illegally for the purpose of gathering personal information about the people he appeared to be conspiring against (it was more than 1). This goes well beyond simply discussing "unconventional thoughts".

      Lets change the scenario a bit. If I was to claim I want to kill someone on Facebook, I'd be a person of interest but not doing anything illegal. When I go out and search for recipes for poisons, I'm still not illegal but I should be under watch, especially if the poison is generic household items which I may have on hand. Once I start illegally gathering personal information about the targets I claimed I want to kill, would I not be conspiring to commit murder? What if I owned a gun, would that be enough? (Remember that this person was a Cop and had a Gun, as well as a position of authority to abuse, and could have been legally stalking victims without anyone's knowledge on "patrols")

      If you believe it's reasonable, would you want the guy as a neighbor? Invite them over over for dinner? If so, good for you. I'd prefer to see a person like this under watch and psychological monitoring at a minimum.

      • by tibit (1762298)

        Under watch is OK, but that's not the same as in jail.

        • by s.petry (762400)
          Which to me means that it was not reasonable to throw out the charges. Change them to something that allows watching.
      • by arth1 (260657) on Thursday July 03, 2014 @01:26PM (#47377897) Homepage Journal

        Where's the line between "fantasy" and "conspiring"?
        Surely you must have one defined to be able to make your judgement call?

        And what's up with restricting people we find creepy for what they might do? I honestly think you are creepy and that you have the potential to commit some heinous acts. Should we put you under constant watch and psych monitoring too?

        Due process. It's not a difficult concept.

        • All these zero tolerance/black and white /. posts are funny. You binary guys should dust off that old analog design 101 book.

          Where's the line between "fantasy" and "conspiring"?

          GP laid that out pretty well. General information searches on methods to kill = watch list/fantasy. Specific information on a target, gathering materials = crime/conspiring. (the latter is apparently what the cannibal cop was doing)

          And what's up with restricting people we find creepy for what they might do?

          Because peoples rights go beyond just not getting killed. If some psychopath is continuously harassing and threatening to do something terrible, they are a

        • by DarthVain (724186)

          Pretty sure the differences between "fantasy" and "conspiring" are what ACTIONS you actually take to plot or do something.

          Writing about how to make a bomb, or talking about it, could just be fantasy. Buying the components, constructing things, etc... point to a more real intent.

          Likely it is a judgement call, but likely based on what evidence. Context is likely a big thing. Talking on a forum is one thing, then again directed cooperation, and planning might be something else.

          In this case, the act of using a

        • by s.petry (762400)

          The line is obviously when a person takes actions that would lead to their talk becoming action, as was the facts in this case. (Read TFA's links)

          For example, I disagree with the US putting the teenager in jail for claiming on Facebook that if he could he would shoot the President. That is was only talk, and not illegal in my opinion. The FBI may have ran some checks on the teen to make sure he was not plotting after making the statement, but the statement alone was not enough to jail him.

          Now, if the teen

      • by nblender (741424)

        Correction. He posted a message saying that he was in the middle of building a pulley system. That's not the same as having actually built it. It's consistant with him building a fantasy scenario on that site..

      • by Greyfox (87712)
        What's eating you?
  • Could have been ... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Thursday July 03, 2014 @11:44AM (#47376867) Journal
    ... a novelist or script writer or something. Imagine Hitchcock or Stephen King before they made it big. They must have such dark thoughts, some of them committed to paper. Easy to imagine the "script" as a thinly veiled attempt by a depraved individual to distance himself from his perverted fantasies. Well, they did not have internet then, and they had the sensibility to pitch it as novel or script.
    • ... a novelist or script writer or something. Imagine Hitchcock or Stephen King before they made it big. They must have such dark thoughts, some of them committed to paper.

      About their girlfriend? Is there a difference between general deviant thought and deviant thoughts against a specific person you interact with regularly? Just askin...

      • by CastrTroy (595695)
        Also, there's probably a difference between having thoughts, and writing down those thoughts and posting them on an internet forum. Death threats are illegal. Posting online that you are going to kill and eat a real person could probably be considered a death threat.
        • by Sentrion (964745)

          The trick now is to re-phrase your death threats in the form of a fictional story, poem, or lyric and post it online as a work of art. Recall that movie that involved a plot to assassinate Bush?

      • Not really.

    • by sir-gold (949031)

      "People think that I must be a very strange person. This is not correct. I have the heart of a small boy. It is in a glass jar on my desk." -Stephen King

    • Hitchcock should have been hanged.
  • I take it he just didn't post "I'd love to eat her out" then. Seriously though it's getting rather dangerous when people are being jailed for thinking something bad, who here at one time or another hasn't had "evil" thoughts at one time or another?
    • Re:I take it (Score:4, Interesting)

      by u38cg (607297) <calum@callingthetune.co.uk> on Thursday July 03, 2014 @12:00PM (#47377075) Homepage
      It appears he had a very strongly developed paraphilia; but the long and short of it is there was no evidence that he ever intended to take practical steps and there was no psychological evidence of risk. This is one that really shouldn't have gone to trial to start with; however, it's easy to understand why the jury convicted.
      • by jythie (914043)
        One of the core problems is that many people believe that having paraphilia means the person will act on it. Males who deviate from normal are assumed to also be incapable of controlling themselves, thus unlike 'normal' males, these deviates will take what they want no matter what.

        Personally, it kinda reminds me of all the heterosexuals I have seen claim that what they were doing was not child abuse because 'they are not gay'.... every time I hear people talking about how people with fetishes will go to n
    • He went victim-shopping on a classified police database, the only charge that actually stuck.

      Dude wasn't just fantasizing, he was conspiring.

      • by Sentrion (964745)

        I have to agree. If someone posts Jihadist fantasies online and is also heavily involved in a pyrotechnic hobby, I think we (law enforcement) step in and do something about it. Kids have been arrested and tried as adults when they had notebooks filled with very detailed Columbine-like plots against their schools. You are free to have creepy thoughts all you want, but if those thoughts appear to a jury to be a murder or terrorist plot, then be prepared to serve some time for those thought.

  • Would be different (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Capt James McCarthy (860294) on Thursday July 03, 2014 @11:47AM (#47376923) Journal

    I bet you if he wrote about child pornography or terrorism it would be a different story.

    However, I agree with the judgement. It's a very slippery slop once that line is crossed and you have to take the good with the bad when you want ANY freedom.

    • by Shakrai (717556)

      I bet you if he wrote about child pornography or terrorism it would be a different story.

      Tom Clancy penned a novel in 1994 that ended with a 767 being flown into the United States Capitol. Seven years before 9/11. Nobody put him in jail, before or after.

      • by gnasher719 (869701) on Thursday July 03, 2014 @12:01PM (#47377087)

        Tom Clancy penned a novel in 1994 that ended with a 767 being flown into the United States Capitol. Seven years before 9/11. Nobody put him in jail, before or after.

        Because it was mostly politicians being killed. And because Harrison Ford survived.

      • by Nidi62 (1525137)

        I bet you if he wrote about child pornography or terrorism it would be a different story.

        Tom Clancy penned a novel in 1994 that ended with a 767 being flown into the United States Capitol. Seven years before 9/11. Nobody put him in jail, before or after.

        I'm still waiting for the Teeth of the Tiger shopping-mall attacks. We saw what happened in Kenya recently. Just imagine that in several malls across the US.

        • by nabsltd (1313397)

          I'm still waiting for the Teeth of the Tiger shopping-mall attacks. We saw what happened in Kenya recently. Just imagine that in several malls across the US.

          The scenarios from Larry Bond's The Enemy Within are also pretty scary. If they came to pass, it's likely the entire US highway system would be completely TSA'd.

        • by swb (14022)

          I think the fact that those kinds of attacks haven't happened is a very good argument that terrorism is highly overstated.

          Despite all our collective disgust with cameras, eavesdropping, and so on, America remains a very easy society to move about freely and there is very little security over the kinds of targets terrorists would have a field day with, like shopping malls, power substations, oil refineries, and so on.

          What effect on the economy would a series of coordinated attacks on malls have on the day af

          • by russotto (537200)

            What effect on the economy would a series of coordinated attacks on malls have on the day after Thanksgiving?

            Perhaps an end to the insanity that is Black Friday and the Christmas season in general? Shopping being better-distributed throughout the year rather than packed into a month? Should be a long-term win. Hell, if I were a cop I'd fantasize about doing it for just those reasons.

        • by Sentrion (964745)

          If the plot from Invasion USA starts to be implemented, I am holding Chuck Norris personally responsible to get out there and kill ALL the terrorists. With his fists. While drinking hot tea.

      • by sir-gold (949031)

        That's because he wrote it in English. If he had written the book in Arabic, it would have been classified as a terrorist training manual.

      • You mean Debt of Honor [wikipedia.org], right? It was apparently a 747.

    • by RyoShin (610051)

      he wrote about child pornography

      Glad you're already +5, because my mod points expired yesterday. The judge wouldn't have given him a second look if it was pedophilic(?) fiction, despite falling under the same kind of fantasy. (Of course, as others have mentioned, him being a cop probably landed him on the good side of the judge and a common citizen wouldn't have been freed.)

      Disgusting though it is, disgust should not be used as the main criteria for laws.

    • by MobyDisk (75490)

      I bet you if he wrote about child pornography or terrorism it would be a different story.

      Is it? If so, why?

      • I bet you if he wrote about child pornography or terrorism it would be a different story.

        Is it? If so, why?

        Yes. Public (or press projected) perception, sensativity, and/or fear.

        Although a terrorism writing may have more latitude since shows like 24 are all the rage.

        Reading the article is seemed like it was pulled straight from an episode of Criminal Minds IMO.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 03, 2014 @11:48AM (#47376945)

    Include:
    -Working hard
    -Buying things
    -Having a family

    All other fantasies will be regarded as anti-social

  • >mutual fantasizing about committing acts of sexual violence

    Umm, it sounded like acts of culinary violence to me.

  • What is the difference between "talking about murder fantasies" and "conspiracy to commit murder"?

    "Honestly, I wasn't trying to get my wife killed, I was just really upset and venting steam, it's not my fault a professional hit-man decided to help me out"

    • The difference is that in a conspiracy someone plans to DO something unlawful, or cause someone else to do it... and not just talk about it. A "conspiracy" is "a secret plan by a group to do something unlawful or harmful". A fantasy is just the "activity of imagining things".

      • A conspiracy becomes criminal itself when there's an overt act. In some previous cases, the act itself has been pretty innocuous. In this case, he apparently googled for information and did illegal searches on a database to get information on women he apparently fantasized about.

        I'm not real comfortable with either possible verdict, but I'm positive that, if I were to do this, I'd be behind bars for a long, long time.

    • Usually conspiracy requires that you actually have an agreement with at least one other party to commit the offense. Note that said other party however need not be truly intending to do so, nor that said other party's involvement needs to be a big part of the plan, just something deemed legally significant. However, it seems that has become rather nebulous over the years any communication of the intent with some act that could be seen to forward that intent significantly seems to often be the bar now.
  • If we were to lock him up for ideas that if acted upon would be dangerous, the moderate left, center and right would be justified in openly exterminating the entire registered member list of every Socialist, Fascist and Communist movement in the US. Ideas do have consequences, one of which is that if you are going to declare that a hypothetical cannibal is a threat to his neighbors because he might snap and eat them (despite showing no signs of willingness to act on his depravity), then society would be jus

  • The story is classic: Boy meets Girl. Boy likes Girl. Boy goes on the internet and writes about his fantasies that involve killing and eating Girl. Boy goes to jail.

    If the story is truly a classic, where's the silvery moon which then explodes for no adequately explored reason!?

  • Stuff that's delicious.

  • "We don't put people in jail for their thoughts. We are not the thought police and the court system is not the deputy of the thought police."

    Clearly, he doesn't understand the intent of modern American government.

  • And yet we have people in prison for viewing anime because the line drawings bring to mind children in American minds but not in the Japanese artists who draw these cartoons. Talk about thought police and people being put in prison for no reason at all!
  • ... to eat people on line.

    That said, maybe this guy shouldn't be a cop.

  • by davydagger (2566757) on Thursday July 03, 2014 @05:17PM (#47379801)
    I could swear a few stories up is this:

    http://yro.slashdot.org/story/14/07/03/1846215/nsa-considers-linux-journal-readers-tor-and-linux-users-extremists

    we don't put people in jail for unconventional thoughts eh?

    Oh wait, only if they are STEM graduates.

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