NEW YORK (AP) — A judge dealt a blow Thursday to the government case against a police officer accused of plotting to kill and eat women by questioning an FBI agent's investigative methods, disqualifying evidence "likely to sicken and disgust the jury" and letting the operator of a sexual fetish website testify on videotape from Russia.
At a hearing a week and a half before opening statements are scheduled, U.S. District Judge Paul G. Gardephe refused to approve testimony about cellphone evidence the government has frequently promoted as proof that Officer Gilberto Valle intended to carry out kidnappings and other horrors that he discussed on the Internet.
Valle's defense lawyers say he was engaging in sexual fantasies with people who share the same interest in fetishes and had no criminal intent. No women were injured or aware they were spoken about online.
Valle's lawyer Julia Gatto said the rulings showed the judge "is starting to see there really is no real world here." She said the government's "evidence of any real action here is nonexistent."
The judge said he will require prosecutors to show how an FBI agent considered an expert on identifying where cellphone calls originate can pinpoint where Valle was when he made calls last year. He said he couldn't rule that the FBI agent's methods of gathering evidence against Valle were "sufficiently reliable to be used at trial."
The judge recounted how prosecutors had claimed they could prove Valle was doing surveillance on targeted women because cellphone data placed him on the same block as at least one of them around the time he was exchanging Internet messages with a co-conspirator about his interest in kidnapping her. The judge noted that the government now says it can only place him within 500 to 600 yards of one woman and five to six blocks of another.
Gatto urged the judge to throw out the cellphone data, saying the government "is just throwing darts at a map, hoping something sticks."
Gatto attacked government plans to try to show that her client last May stalked a Queens high school senior he claimed in an Internet chat with a co-conspirator was "the most desirable piece of meat I have ever met" and a "must have." The judge said Valle was quoted by the government as talking about cannibalism as it relates to her, saying his "oven is pretty big, and I can take the racks out."
The judge also ruled prosecutors could not at trial introduce an online chat in which someone claims to have eaten a 5-year-old girl and could not show jurors two child abuse pictures and a video of a goat being slaughtered, though he said the goat slaughter could be described by witnesses.
To show jurors such images, he said, was "likely to sicken and disgust the jury."
Over government objections, he said he will let the founder of a fetish website on which Valle met his co-conspirators testify from Russia via videotape. Among other things, the man is expected to testify that he modeled his website after Facebook, hoping to bring together those people who share the same sexual fantasies, and that Valle's chats were not unusual on the website.