NEW YORK (AP) — Jurors began deliberating Wednesday whether two men who discussed abducting, raping and killing women and girls crossed a line between sharing fantasies and plotting crime.
Federal prosecutors say retired high school librarian Christopher Asch and auto mechanic Michael Van Hise aimed to turn disturbing ideas into deadly action, while defense lawyers say the men just thought up scenarios no more real than horror films or violent pornography.
The prosecution grew out of another shocking case — that of a police officer accused of plotting to kidnap and kill women and eat their flesh.
Asch and Van Hise are accused of scheming to brutalize female members of Van Hise's family, including girls under 10. Asch also is charged separately with scheming to kidnap a woman who turned out to be an undercover FBI agent.
While the two aren't accused of actually kidnapping or harming anyone, prosecutors insist the men's objectives were more than mere talk.
"This trial is about Michael Van Hise and Christopher Asch planning and agreeing to hurt women — real, live women. ... This was not a joke, folks," Assistant U.S. Attorney Hadassa Waxman said Tuesday in a closing argument.
The men met and drove around Van Hise's hometown of Trenton, N.J., talking about spots to dump bodies, and Van Hise emailed Asch photos of the relatives he was targeting and information on where they lived, she noted.
And Asch, as part of the other alleged plot, bought a stun gun, a whip, handcuffs, gynecological instruments and other items, she said.
But defense lawyers say the men were just pretending, not truly planning.
Asch was just engaging in role playing when, for example, he conducted surveillance on the undercover agent who posed as a potential target, attorney Brian Waller said.
"It's creepy, OK. ... but it was a safe activity," Waller said in his summation.
Van Hise's lawyer, Alice Fontier, said her 24-year-old client had so little intention of carrying out his ideas that he told one supposed target — his wife — about them, Fontier said. He'd envision scenarios he knew were impossible, such as abducting his sister-in-law from work though she didn't have a job, she added.
"He didn't do anything to anyone," Fontier told jurors, arguing that he created a persona to express dark desires in a way "no different than writing a script for a horror movie or torture porn."
Van Hise was arrested last year as the case against Officer Gilberto Valle headed toward trial; Asch was arrested about a month after Valle's March 2013 conspiracy conviction. Valle is awaiting sentencing and appealing his conviction.