Further arrest in police 'cannibalism' case
The arrest of a man accused Friday of seeking to pay $5,000 to a New York City police officer to kidnap a Manhattan woman that he intended to rape and kill drew claims from a defense lawyer that the government was trying to prevent him from testifying about Internet sexual fantasies at the officer’s cannibalism-tinged trial.
The attorney, Julia Gatto, spoke after Michael Vanhise, 22, appeared briefly in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, where he was ordered held pending a bail hearing Monday on a conspiracy to commit kidnapping charge.
‘‘Mr. Vanhise is being used as a pawn by the government to bolster a very weak case,’’ Gatto said outside court.
She represents Gilberto Valle, 28, who is scheduled to go to trial later this month after he was charged in October with one count of kidnapping conspiracy and one count of accessing a computer without authorization.
She said Vanhise ‘‘would have exonerated our client’’ with testimony about his own participation in a world of Internet sexual fantasies where people could speak of unspeakable acts they would never commit.
She said the arrest Friday appeared to be a tactical move by authorities to prevent testimony by Vanhise or others about Internet fantasies. ‘‘He definitely could have been a defense witness, yes. We believe he would certainly support the defense,’’ Gatto said.
The lawyer said the government appeared to be pressuring potential defense witnesses not to take the witness stand by saying in court documents filed against Vanhise that there were other co-conspirators who had not been charged in the case. Authorities said Vanhise agreed to pay Valle $5,000 to kidnap the woman in New York and deliver her bound to Vanhise’s home in New Jersey, where she would be raped and killed.
They said Vanhise also participated in planning the kidnapping of a girl. Vanhise’s lawyer, Alice Fontier, said her client, an auto mechanic who seemed to wipe tears from his eyes during his court hearing, was ‘‘very upset,’’ especially because he wanted to be home after his wife gave birth to a daughter last month, one of several young children the couple has.
She said he had been in contact with the FBI since late October and there had ‘‘certainly been ongoing meetings.’’ ‘‘He has not stopped cooperating,’’ she said, though she added: ‘‘Obviously, the relationship has changed since he was arrested.’’
Besides being accused of agreeing to pay Valle for the abduction last year when Valle was an active police officer, Vanhise also admitted emailing others about kidnapping, raping and killing women and children, the FBI said in court papers.
Valle was charged last year with using a law-enforcement database as he allegedly made plans to kidnap, rape, kill and eat women. Gatto said at that time that he was engaging in sexual fantasies and intended no violence. U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said Vanhise engaged in conduct ‘‘that reads like a script for a bad horror film.’’
He said the arrest was the second ‘‘in this bone-chilling case, but we are not finished.’’ George Venizelos, head of the New York FBI office, said the charges ‘‘convey the depravity of the offense.’’ According to court papers, Vanhise and Valle negotiated last February to carry out the kidnapping of the Manhattan woman, saying in email conversations that she would be knocked unconscious before her hands and feet were bound and she was gagged.
The men conspired to stuff her into a large suitcase and deliver her to Vanhise’s home, where Valle insisted she would still be alive so that Vanhise could rape her, authorities said. The court papers said Vanhise also emailed photographs of a girl whom Vanhise knew well. They said this occurred after other unidentified co-conspirators expressed interest in kidnapping the child. If convicted, Vanhise could face life in prison.
——— Associated Press Writer Colleen Long contributed to this report.