NEW YORK (AP) — No one disputes that a retired high school librarian and an auto mechanic bonded over discussions of ghastly fetishes: abducting, raping and killing women and girls.
Jury deliberations were expected to start as soon as Wednesday in the Manhattan federal conspiracy trial of retired high school librarian Christopher Asch and Trenton, N.J., mechanic Michael Van Hise. Prosecutors say the two aimed to turn disturbing fantasies 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 plotting — and even amassing a macabre kit of apparent torture tools — to kidnap a woman who turned out to be an undercover FBI agent.
While no abductions ultimately happened, prosecutors insist the men's objectives were more than mere talk.
"No one is on trial here for engaging in disgusting conversations," Assistant U.S. Attorney Hadassa Waxman said in a closing argument Tuesday. "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 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.
Asch's seeming preparations for a kidnapping — including covertly watching the undercover agent who posed as a potential target — were just role-playing that the 61-year-old never would have acted out in real life, 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 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.
But he 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 although 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.