Gilberto Valle paced the stage nervously at the 2019 CrimeCon in New Orleans. He told the standing-room only crowd he knew there were likely some in the audience who hated him, who thought he was a deviant, a monster and a true danger to society — women in particular.
He acknowledged the terrible mistakes he made, the awful things he wrote in online sexual fantasy chat rooms, describing in detail how he wanted to kidnap, torture, cook and eat women, including his wife. Valle was a New York Police Department officer at the time, which led the local media to dub him, “Cannibal Cop.”
He is ashamed of it all, Valle said. It destroyed his marriage and robbed him of a relationship with his daughter. The last time he saw her was in 2012, just before his arrest. She was 11 months old.
Maybe he deserved all of that, Valle admitted. But what he didn’t deserve, he said, was to be arrested, convicted of conspiracy to kidnap, and sentenced to life in prison, all because of some things he wrote, but never acted upon.
“I understand people don’t like what I did but the question here is, is not liking me reason enough to have me in prison for the rest of my life?”
Private investigator Catherine Townsend, who spoke before Valle, said his case is important because it centers on a basic question that has become all the more important as technology has taken over much of our lives: What is the line between intent to do harm and fantasy?
“When you’re talking about serial killers like Ted Bundy or John Wayne Gacy, you think they started out as ordinary guys and, at some point, they do start fantasizing about things before they do them,” Townsend said. “And that’s a legitimate line of questioning. But, on the flip side, I bet if we look at the search history of everyone in this room, there will be some disturbing stuff there. I know there is on my computer, and it’s really made me think about these questions.”
Valle described his childhood as being completely normal. He was popular and had a lot of friends, he said. He played baseball, was an honor student in high school and made the dean’s list at the University of Maryland. But around the time of puberty, he said he found himself getting aroused over a television program that showed a woman being tied up.
“I had this fantasy life on the side that I never told anyone about. I knew this stuff would freak people out, so I kept it to myself.”
Valle went on to become a police officer, got married and had a daughter. But over time, his sexual fantasies grew more extreme. One day, his wife, who was growing suspicious of his behavior, looked at his computer and saw that he had been writing in chat rooms under the name, “Girlmeat Hunter,” and that he had searched for terms such as “how to abduct a girl,” and “how to chloroform a girl.” She then saw that she was the target of one of these violent scenarios and called the FBI. That call led to Valle’s 2012 arrest and subsequent conviction.
Valle’s defense attorneys insisted throughout the trial that their client never intended to act on any of these sexual fantasies, and they were just that, fantasies. A federal district court agreed, and two years later overturned Valle’s conviction, citing evidence that proved he was simply engaging in “fantasy role-play.” The ruling was later upheld by a federal appeals court, which said it didn’t want “to give the government the power to punish us for our thoughts and not our actions,” and that “fantasizing about committing a crime, even a crime of violence against a real person whom you know, is not a crime.”
Townsend reiterated this point at CrimeCon on Saturday.
“I’m extremely passionate about this case, because I think the country is going down a dark and dangerous road if we start prosecuting people for thought crimes,” she said. “You can hate Gil personally. You can think what he did was wrong, but it’s these moments when defending our freedom of speech is the most important. It’s easier to defend freedom of speech when you agree with everything. It’s hard when it’s something disturbing like this.”
Valle told the audience that he met a woman at CrimeCon who confided to him she has sexual fantasies that involve her being tortured to death. “Should she lose her job because she daydreams about that kind of thing?” he asked.
He then mentioned that people often send him messages saying they wish someone would put a bullet in his head or beat him to death.
“That’s fine, but they can’t overlook the fact that they can say that and have nothing happen to them, in part because of how my case played out,” Valle said. “You can dislike me as much as you want. You can say he’s a scumbag, he’s a piece of garbage. But if you look at the case merely from a legal perspective, there’s one conclusion you can reach.”
Valle currently works for a construction company, but hopes a better opportunity presents itself at some point. This is not the life he wanted, he said. His mistakes caused him to lose everything. And they were horrible mistakes, he admits. But, he wants to believe there is more for him down the road.
“This is the country of second chances. I’m holding out hope people who make mistakes don’t have to be forever defined by those mistakes.”
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