By Bernard Vaughan
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal judge on Tuesday ordered New York's "cannibal cop" released from jail after the former city police officer's conviction for kidnapping was overturned in a plot to kill and cook women. U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe in Manhattan threw out the conviction of Gilberto Valle, 30, after federal public defenders argued that the U.S. Constitution grants people the right to fantasize, free from government interference.
Valle was found guilty in March 2013 of plotting to kidnap, cook and eat women. But Gardephe acquitted Valle, a former New York City police officer dubbed the "cannibal cop" by local tabloid media, on the charge of conspiracy to kidnap. He was awaiting sentencing.
"The evidentiary record is such that it is more likely than not the case that all of Valle's Internet communications about kidnapping are fantasy role-play," Gardephe wrote in his 118-page opinion.
The trial brought to light a macabre cyberspace community where millions of people discuss and exchange images and video of extraordinary brutality, much of it staged.
Gardephe upheld Valle's conviction on a lesser charge of improperly accessing a law enforcement database, which prosecutors said he used to help find his intended victim. That charge carries a sentence up to one year in prison.
Prosecutors said Valle crossed the line from fantasy to reality by taking specific action in conspiring to kidnap women. Valle's attorney had argued that he was merely engaged in online fantasy role playing.
(Additional reporting by Eric M. Johnson and Jon Stempel; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Bill Trott)