Gilberto Valle, a former officer with the NYPD, has been convicted of plotting to kidnap, torture, murder, and consume women – with his wife included on his butcher’s bill. There’s a sexual fetish for almost anything, but this case highlighted the darkest corners of that community in the United States. The jury had to decide whether Valle’s aberrant sexual appetites had become so powerful that he would act out his fantasies. Where did the lines between reality and fantasy – to coin a phrase by George Will – blur to the point of erasure? It’s unknown. Valle never harmed anyone.
Officer Valle seems to have been convicted of a thought crime. As Roy Klabin at PolicyMic wrote on March 5, no one would’ve have cared if he hadn’t spent so much time on the computer, which sparked the legitimate concern of his wife.
When Valle’s wife noticed him spending too much time on his computer, she decided to investigate what was consuming his attention. She testified in court that she found chat rooms and conversations on fetish websites, where Valle wrote out his sexual fantasies of kidnapping women, killing them, and eating their flesh. His wife quickly called the F.B.I. and Valle was arrested.
Valle’s defense attorneys correctly point out, that he never actually committed a crime. All Valle did was discuss his — albeit highly disturbing — fantasies with men and women, on a sexually themed social network. His chats included detailed plans about how he would theoretically enact his fantasy, which are more than justifiable grounds for a divorce … but should Valle be going to jail?
No, he shouldn’t, but that’s not to say that Valle should’ve sought professional help to get to the root cause of this debauched fantasy. It’s one thing to be addicted to pornography. It’s another thing when you illegally use a federal database, which is intended to solve crimes, to seek potential victims associated with your fantasy. However, having depraved thoughts isn’t illegal, and our legal system shouldn’t act as if it is.
Valle had three companions in his little world – “meatmarketman,” “Chris Collins,” and “Moody Blues” – whom he agreed to pay $4-5,000 to abduct, sexually assault and eat a woman, according to Denis Hamil’s February 25 column in the New York Daily News. But no transactions were made.
I understand that this isn’t 50 Shades of Grey. The ever-growing internet network allows these folks to interact, discuss, and ponder their fantasies under anonymity and without judgement. It allows everyone of every stripe in society to participate and share information. At times, it’s extreme, but to think about such dark scenarios isn’t a crime. While not grounded in the cannibalization and brutalization of women, I’m sure there are many people who have thought, albeit for only a second, about killing a co-worker, family member, inconsiderate driver, or politician that just drives them mad. Should anyone with those thoughts be put on trial for conspiracy to commit murder?
Hamil also mentioned authors, like Stephen King and Thomas Harris, who have given us characters that epitomize the darkest manifestations of humanity itself. Hannibal Lecter ate people in Harris’ novels. As for Stephen King – I’ll let you think of your favorite novel. If you’ve seen movies, like Se7en, Hostel, and Dumplings, you’ll see how the mind can easily enter the darkest corners of our imagination.
Se7en features grisly aftermaths of ritualistic murders based on the seven deadly sins. It had to take a morbid curiosity when pondering the “lust” murder. If you haven’t seen the film, I won’t spoil it for you – but it’s horrid. Hostel features an underground network that caters to the rich and powerful for the chance to torture and kill unassuming backpackers in Europe. The person with the highest bid wins. Dumplings, which is one of the most disturbing films I’ve ever seen, features a woman seeking youthful rejuvenation by eating dumplings made with the remains of aborted fetuses. Since none of you will probably see the film, and you shouldn’t, it ends with her aborting her own child, and consuming it. Yes, Asian cinema can press the bounds of decency. We’re not perfect beings. We have an awesome capability for evil. Should we be punished for not acting upon our inherent, primordial nature to destroy?
My brother-in-law is a very experienced criminal defense attorney in London. He explained to me that in England, U.K. terrorist laws criminalize those who posses any “terrorist materials” like The Anarchist Cookbook, regardless of whether they intend to use them. I personally bought a copy of the book on Amazon.com my freshman year of college, out of a morbid sense of curiosity. I don’t mind landing on a few government agencies’ radar due to that inquisitiveness, but I would certainly object to spending the next 10 years in Guantanamo for “terrorist plots.”
My brother-in-law has also had a crazy client who walked into a police station, confessing to kidnapping, raping and murdering a child. He was arrested, but no bodies could be found and the case was dismissed once they determined the man couldn’t be trusted on his word. Studies have found many people confessing to crimes they didn’t commit, for a variety of reasons. The bigger question is, at what point can we be held accountable for the thoughts in our heads? Should we be punished for the compulsions of our inner demons?
I lean socially conservative on issues relating to our society, but our imagination is an area where government regulation is nonsensical, ineffective, and illegal. Also, the notion of regulating the internet is another inane characteristic of government overreach. Valle’s no angel. He did access a database without permission to find would-be victims in order to quench his depraved thirst for eating women – but did he hurt anyone? While the evidence is strong – and macabre – Valle was interacting on a fetish site with like-minded company. Of course, they’ll push the envelope. It’s a site designed to serve as an outlet for them to discuss their abnormal sexual proclivities.
There were no bodies, no monetary transactions, and no consumption. A disturbed man with sordid sexual desires, a distraught woman, and an online community still talking about extreme fetishes are all that remains in this bizarre episode of American justice.