NEW YORK — Two judges on a federal appeals panel seemed unlikely Tuesday to reinstate a guilty verdict against a former New York City police officer who became dubbed the "cannibal cop" for his online exchanges about kidnapping and eating women.
But the panel's third judge appeared firmly on the side of prosecutors during arguments in the case against ex-Officer Gilberto Valle, 31.
A lower court judge overrode the jury's guilty verdict in July and ordered Valle acquitted of conspiracy to kidnap, kill and eat women, saying prosecutors failed to prove Valle had taken sufficient steps to kidnap anyone. At trial, the jury concluded he wasn't just fantasizing when he conversed on a sexual fetish website with others he had never met about killing and cooking his wife and other women.
Valle was sentenced to time served on a minor computer charge.
Arguing in support of the jury verdict, Assistant U.S. Attorney Justin Anderson noted that Valle went to Baltimore to surveil a Maryland resident he knew from college — one of five women he supposedly targeted during a 10-month period in 2012.
But circuit judges Barrington D. Parker and Susan L. Carney seemed unimpressed with government arguments.
"He didn't sit in front of her house for a week and watch her come and go," Carney said, minimizing the activity, which included lunch with her.
Parker drew laughter from spectators when he suggested Valle's kidnapping plans might have been about as real as a drug conspiracy in which a leprechaun delivers cocaine from the moon.
Anderson, though, said if Valle "had talked about kidnapping a leprechaun, we would not be here."
"Real person. Real case," the prosecutor said. In court papers, prosecutors said potential victims included his wife, one of her colleagues, two of his college friends and a teenager studying at a Valle's former high school.
"This is not something so crazy like a leprechaun delivering drugs that it has to be dismissed," Anderson said.
The third judge, Chester J. Straub, said it appeared the elements necessary for conviction were there and letting the overturned verdict stand might make it difficult to convict conspirators who "are not that bright but are shrewd."
Valle was arrested in 2012 after his wife discovered disturbing material on his computer and reported it to the FBI. At trial, prosecutors argued that Valle took steps to carry out his plot, including looking up potential targets on the 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."
Defense lawyers said in court papers the plans were "sick fantasies designed only to stimulate Valle and his fellow fetishists."
The appeals judges did not immediately rule.