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New York - A former New York Police Department officer left jail on Tuesday after a judge stunned prosecutors and overturned his conviction in a sensational case accusing him of plotting on the Internet to kidnap, kill and eat young women, including his wife.
Judge Paul Gardephe ruled late Monday that there was insufficient evidence to support a jury's guilty verdict in the kidnapping conspiracy conviction of Gilberto Valle. He agreed with defense arguments that the defendant's bizarre exchanges in fetish chat rooms about cannibalizing women never put anyone in danger.
Valle's "depraved, misogynistic sexual fantasies about his wife, former college classmates and acquaintances undoubtedly reflected a mind diseased," the judge wrote. But, he added, prosecutors failed to prove he had entered into genuine agreements to kidnap the women and taken concrete steps to carry them out.
At a hearing Tuesday before his release, Valle - dubbed the "Cannibal Cop" by the tabloids - smiled at his family and hugged his lawyers in court. Once outside, he told reporters he was eager to go home after spending more than 20 months behind bars.
"I want to take this opportunity to apologize to everyone I hurt, shocked and offended with my infantile behavior," he said. He also thanked his family and fellow inmates at a federal lockup for helping him endure an "impossible situation."
Valle, 40, "is guilty of nothing more than very unconventional thoughts," said one of his attorneys, Julia Gatto. "We don't put people in jail for their thoughts. We are not the thought police."
The judge set bail at $100,000 and ordered home detention in Queens for the defendant after prosecutors told him they intended to appeal his ruling.
"The government believes the jury got it right," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Hadassa Waxman.
Valle was arrested in 2012 after his wife discovered disturbing material on his computer and reported it to the FBI. He was convicted in March 2013 on the conspiracy charge - which carries a possible life term - and a misdemeanor count of illegally accessing a law enforcement database.
At trial, prosecutors had argued that Valle took steps to carry out his plot, including looking up potential targets on a restricted law enforcement database; searching the Internet for how to knock someone out with chloroform and where to get torture devices and other tools.
In one of the numerous online conversations shown to the jury during the trial, Valle told a man he met in a fetish chat room, "I want her to experience being cooked alive. She'll be trussed up like a turkey. ... She'll be terrified, screaming and crying."
In another exchange, Valle suggested a woman he knew would be easy prey because she lived alone. The men discussed cooking her, basted in olive oil, over an open fire and using her severed head as a centerpiece for a sit-down meal.
The NYPD fired Valle after his conviction.