A New York police officer accused of plotting cannibalism had no intention of actually eating his victims - it was all in his mind, his lawyer says.
Gilberto Valle, a promising six-year veteran of the New York Police Department, may have sounded scary during extensive online chats with other men about kidnapping and eating up to 100 women, but he was never dangerous, Julia Gatto said in Manhattan federal court on Tuesday.
"His dirty thoughts are different and certainly more depraved," the lawyer acknowledged, in pleading for 28-year-old Valle to be freed on bail. But "the only thing that happened here are men talking about fantasies".
Gatto described what she said was a "very vibrant" online "subculture" where men chat anonymously about extreme sexual fantasies, including "genital mutilation, decapitation, cannibalism".
"These kinds of conversations are happening every hour of every day. Just one website I visited with my paralegal has 38,000 members," she said.
But "it's all role play."
Judge Paul Gardephe rejected the argument, ordering Valle to remain behind bars ahead of his trial, which will start on January 22.
"The defendant's activities went far beyond internet chat," he said. "The defendant had detailed discussions about the kidnap, torture and murder of a number of women."
Valle pleaded not guilty on Monday to charges of conspiracy to kidnap and illegally accessing the police criminal database.
Although several members of his family sat in the court, his wife has left him and taken their young daughter, the judge said.
No women were harmed as a result of the lurid online chats. However, the intent was there, according to prosecutors.
One of those chats, the federal prosecutor noted, referred to eating a woman on this Thursday's Thanksgiving.
Prosecutor Hadassa Waxman pointed out that Valle's research included files on women that he shared with his online correspondents, giving details ranging from estimated bra size to the college they'd attended.
"These are real women, these are real names, these are real dates of birth," Waxman said. "There's a lot of reality here."
The judge said he could not release Valle on bail, despite a favourable preliminary psychological report, describing his behaviour as "depraved, bizarre, aberrational and, as of now, entirely unexplained - particularly for someone who is a police officer".