NEW YORK (AP) — A former high school librarian and an auto mechanic were deadly serious about plots to abduct, rape, torture and kill women and girls, prosecutors told jurors Tuesday, while defense lawyers said the men only shared vile fantasies no more real than horror movies or violent pornography.
Closing arguments began Tuesday in the federal conspiracy trial of retired librarian Christopher Asch and Trenton, N.J. mechanic Michael Van Hise, a case that grew from an investigation into a police officer accused of plotting to kidnap and kill women and eat their flesh.
Asch, 61, and Van Hise, 24 are accused of scheming to brutalize Van Hise's wife, step-daughter, sister-in-law and several nieces under age 10. Asch also is charged separately with plotting to kidnap an undercover FBI agent.
While no kidnappings ultimately happened, prosecutors insist the men's intentions were more than mere talk.
"No one is on trial here for engaging in disgusting conversations," Assistant U.S. Attorney Hadassa Waxman told jurors. "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."
The men met and drove around Trenton 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 added.
"They would have carried out their plans if and when they thought they could get away with it if the government had not stopped them," Waxman said.
But defense lawyers say the men weren't actually planning, just pretending, to play out fetishes that thousands of other people also discuss online.
Van Hise was just "a pathetic kid with a limited imagination" who sprinkled ghoulish fetishes with true-to-life details to make his fantasies seem more real, said his lawyer, Alice Fontier.
But he had so little intention of acting on 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 although she didn't have a job, she added.
"He didn't do anything to anyone," she 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."
"Don't let the government use your disgust" or fear to gain a conviction, she said.
Asch and Van Hise were arrested last year as the case against Officer Gilberto Valle headed toward trial and, later, a conspiracy conviction. Van Hise was initially accused of scheming with Valle, but references to Valle and cannibalism were ultimately excluded from the indictment in the case against Asch and Van Hise.
Valle is awaiting sentencing.