THOUGHT COPS VS. CANNIBAL COPS
Last week’s news was filled with predictable if misplaced criticism related to the conviction of Gilberto Valle, an NYPD cop who was found guilty of conspiracy to kidnap, based in part on evidence that he talked in an on-line chat-room about kidnapping, murdering and eating as many as one hundred women.
Valle was also found guilty of illegally accessing a restricted law enforcement database from which he gathered information about his victims, probably to identify vulnerable women with criminal records for drugs or prostitution, figuring nobody would miss them if they disappeared.
Valle’s supporters say the guy was convicted for his “thoughts” and that it isn’t a crime to fantasize even about horrific things like cooking a woman alive.
If “thinking” was the only thing Valle did, he wouldn’t have been charged, much less convicted. But the six-year police veteran did much more, and as a guy who knew the legal meaning of criminal conspiracy as well as anyone, he knew the crime has been committed as soon as his plan moved from words to “overt actions.”
“Overt act” simply means, a “substantial step” in furtherance of the plan and Valle took a lot of “substantial steps” — steps his misguided supporters conveniently neglect to mention when they complain that we’re all on the verge of being rounded up by a band of Orwellian “Thought Police.”
One of Valle’s particularly creepy co-conspirators offered to pay Valle $5,000 to kidnap and deliver alive a woman he planned to rape, murder, cook and eat.
“Full payment due at delivery,” Valle wrote back to him in an instant message in February, 2012. He said nothing about wanting Monopoly money, and nowhere noted that it was all a joke.
In some of his communications, Valle specifically stated that he was “serious” about his plans, which makes the argument about how he was prosecuted for his “thoughts” even more lame. Yet some have questioned whether Valle’s boasting about being “serious” was, itself, part of the fantasy. If true, what are we supposed to make of the times when Valle wrote that it was a “fantasy?” Are claims of fantasy real, but claims of reality fake? Wouldn’t THAT be convenient. “Your Honor, I did say I was planning to kill the man, but I was kidding. And that part about how I said I was serious, I was kidding about that, too.”
While people can and do fantasize about all sorts of things, Valle was so serious about his plan to kidnap one of his victims, he literally went to her neighborhood after telling the guy to whom he planned to deliver the woman, “she may be knocked out when I get her to you.” Valle was apparently worried that his customer, who’d asked for the victim to be delivered alive, would be nervous if she arrived unconscious, so he let him know in advance that he would “have to knock her out to get her out of her apartment safely.”
Valle even haggled with the guy about the $5,000 price tag, saying, “I really need the money” and noting that his fee was reasonable because “I’m putting my neck on the line here.”
It’s easy to get sucked into claims of fantasy when sex and violence are part of the defense narrative in a criminal conspiracy case because we live in a culture where sexual violence is often marketed as make-believe – and sometimes it is.
But let’s assume that instead of planning to rape and kill a woman for $5,000, Valle made a deal to blow up a plane for the same price. And instead of accessing names of women from a police database, he downloaded arrival times for actual flights. And rather than going to his intended victim’s neighborhood, he went to the airport. Would there even be a debate about whether Valle deserved to be prosecuted and convicted for conspiracy to blow up an airplane?
It’s hard to believe we live in a world where a cop would set up a side business of kidnapping and selling women to men who want to torture, rape, kill and eat them. But the truth is – sometimes seemingly nice people do very bad things. (Think John and Patsy Ramsey, indicted in 1999 for the death of their 6 year-old daughter JonBenet).
As difficult as it might be, we have to get more comfortable with our discomfort if we want the legal system to be effective in preventing violence and promoting civility.
Put another way, it might feel better to pretend that a trusted law enforcement official was kidding when he said he wanted to kidnap and kill women, but let’s remember who benefits when we indulge our OWN fantasies as a way of turning blind eye to someone else’s ugly reality.