NEW YORK, N.Y. - The wife of a New York City police officer on trial on charges that he conspired to kidnap, torture, kill and eat women objected to a defence lawyer's characterization of what she saw on her husband's computer as pornography.
"It wasn't porn. That was dead people," 27-year-old Kathleen Mangan-Valle told defence attorney Julia Gatto Monday in an emotion-packed opening day of testimony that took a federal court jury in Manhattan into some of the darkest corners of sexually driven activity on the Internet. "I don't know why you keep calling that stuff porn."
The testimony came soon after a prosecutor insisted that Gilberto Valle was intent on conspiring to kidnap, kill and cook women he knew, including his wife. Gatto told jurors the 28-year-old officer wanted only to share extreme sexual fantasies on the Internet with like-minded people, some of the 38,000 registered to a website that caters to those interested in asphyxiation and cannibalism.
At times speaking through sobs and twice crying so hard that the judge ordered breaks, Mangan-Valle described coming across grisly photographs last summer on a website that was a regular stop for Valle, the baby-faced man she met in October 2009 through an Internet dating service.
Gatto tried to soften the image of her client by showing jurors pictures of a uniformed Valle and the couple's 1-year-old daughter, a moment that caused the wife on the witness stand and eventually the officer at the defence table 30 feet away to cry out amid sobs.
She asked Mangan-Valle about good times with friends the couple had shared and their wedding last June.
"The wedding was nice. The marriage was not," Mangan-Valle said.
Mangan-Valle made clear there were no mixed emotions when she told Gatto why she did not agree to speak with defence attorneys prior to the trial.
"You're representing the man who wants to kill me. No, I don't want to talk to you," she said.
A prosecutor, Hadassa Waxman, had asked her earlier to describe what she found after she put a tracking device on a computer used by her husband to see what websites he visited and what he wrote to others in emails and instant chats. She said she learned she was a target.
"I was going to be tied up by my feet and my throat slit and they would have fun watching the blood gush out of me because I was young," she said.
Mangan-Valle also discovered plans to put one friend in a suitcase, wheel her out of her building and murder her. Two other women were "going to be raped in front of each other to heighten their fears," while another was going to be roasted alive over an open fire, she said.
Valle is accused of conspiring to kidnap a woman and unauthorized use of a law enforcement database that prosecutors say he used to help build a list of potential targets. A conviction on the kidnapping count carries a possible life sentence.
The officer has claimed his online discussions of cannibalism were harmless fetish fantasies. But in opening statements on Monday, a prosecutor said "very real women" were put in jeopardy.
'Make no mistake," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Randall Jackson. "Gilbert Valle was very serious about these plans."
Gatto argued that her client "never intended to kidnap anyone." She added: "You can't convict people for their thoughts, even if they're sick."
Once Mangan-Valle fled her home and reported her husband's strange behaviour to the FBI last year, agents uncovered "a heinous plot to kidnap, rape, murder and cannibalize a number of very real women," Jackson said.
The officer had attempted to contact potential victims, including a New York City elementary school teacher, to learn more about their jobs and residences, the prosecutor said. His Internet research also included the best rope to tie someone up with, recipes, human flesh, white slavery and chemicals that can knock someone out, Jackson said.
Gatto countered in her opening statement that there was "no proof of a crime here. The charges are pure fiction."
"It's cases like this that test bedrock principles: freedom to think, freedom to say, freedom to write," she said.
Valle had always been aroused by "unusual things" including the thought of a woman boiled down on a platter with an apple in her mouth, his lawyer said.
Valle is expected to take the stand to make the case that it was all role-playing fantasy. The defence also is planning to call experts to explain the fetish subculture and to show jurors the videotaped testimony of the fetish website's co-founder Sergey Merenkov.
Merenkov called the site "a clone of Facebook, but it is oriented to people with fetishes that are not considered standard."
Tiger Howard Devore, a psychologist and certified sex therapist who specializes in dealing with sexual dysfunction and fetishes, said the cannibalism fetish known as voreaphilia isn't common.
"For most laymen, they're going to think about it as cannibalism," Devore told The Associated Press. "But what it really is, is an obsession about consuming the flesh of the other, and this can have a whole range of expressions. ... It is mostly played out in fantasy, mostly played out in role-playing."
There are well-known criminal extremes like Jeffrey Dahmer, who saved pieces of his victims' body parts and ate the flesh, Devore said, though 'the instances of this kind of violence are extremely rare.'
Late Monday, Andria Noble, 27, a state prosecutor in Columbus, Ohio, testified that she never saw Valle to be violent when she knew him during college. She is the first of five women besides Valle's wife who prosecutors say Valle had targeted online and will testify.
Associated Press writer Eileen AJ Connelly contributed to this report.