In sharp contrast to prosecutors, who spent five days presenting their case against the so-called Cannibal Cop, lawyers for Officer Gilberto Valle presented their defense of the suspended cop in just one day.
The focus of that defense was the founder and operator of a horror fantasy website where Valle discussed most of his plans to kidnap, sexually torture, cook and eat women. Valle has insisted, since his arrest late last October, that he was only engaging in fantasy play on the website darkfetishnet.com.
His attorneys, however, had to show in their video presentation of testimony with darkfetishnet’s founder, Sergey Merenkov, that Merenkov stood firmly by his claim that his website is strictly for fantasy use.
Darkfetishnet’s 38,000 members keep busy sharing images and information related to horror fantasies, some of which had been shown during Valle’s trial. On Tuesday, Merenkov’s video testimony about those images and that information kept jurors looking closely at video monitors in front of their seats, and set up around the courtroom.
Darkfetishnet is “for all fetishes that exist that are legal,” Merenkov said in a video deposition recorded via videoconference last month, but submitted as evidence Tuesday. Among those fetishes, Merenkov told Valle’s attorneys, are “BDSM, food, asphyxiation… cannibalism.”
Through a translator, he described asphyxiation fantasies as “the main fetish” on his website. Valle, however, spent most of his time online chatting and posting with members who, like himself, were interested in cannibalism.
Merenkov testified that one feature of his site was a section called “What Would You Do To Her?” Like many users of that section, Valle had posted dozens of photos of women he knew, including some of his wife, onto darkfetishnet, to which other users responded to the question after which the section of the site was named.
Merenkov said, “As far as I know, there’s no law against posting real people’s photos, but it’s unethical.” He said that the website imposed a new rule last fall restricting the posting of photographs of real people without their permission. Only photos of models are now allowed.
Overall, though, Darkfetishnet’s owner made one thing clear in his testimony: that he set up his website strictly for fantasy.
However, when prosecutors took over questioning in the video testimony, Merenkov admitted that he has had to remove some users from darkfetishnet because fantasy plotting they’d done had come across as sounding too real. He never had to remove Valle from membership.
Instead, as he testified to Prosecutor Randall Jackson in his video testimony, Valle’s darkfetishnet account closed last fall before the cop’s arrest.
“Who deleted Valle’s account?” Jackson asked Merenkov in the video deposition, “Him or you?”
“It was not me, for sure,” Merenkov replied. “I think it was him.” It was an answer that could imply that that Valle was trying to cover his tracks, or that Merenkov had no reason to suspect that Valle’s activity on darkfetishnet merited Valle being cut off. It’s a matter the jury will decide.
Before the defense began to make its case Tuesday, they requested a mistrial on grounds that a list of internet searches that the jury may have thought had been carried out by Valle were instead done by Valle’s estranged wife. She had testified in court last week that once she’d figured out that her husband had an alternate life online, she had made many searches herself that spyware she’d installed on the couple’s computer had shown her husband had done.
Judge Paul Gardephe threw out the motion for mistrial.
The two sides will meet again briefly on Wednesday to discuss procedural matters, then they’ll make closing arguments on Thursday. There may be a verdict in the case of the so-called Cannibal Cop before the week is over.