Valle's trial was among the first in the United States to
spotlight a thorny legal issue, drawing the fine line between online
fantasy role play and violent criminal conspiracy.
Last spring, Valle's lawyers told jurors that the numerous emails
and conversations outlining plans to kidnap and eat women were in
fact sexual fetish role-play games — part of a large but
little-known online subculture of cannibal fetish enthusiasts.
Prosecutors countered that the detailed kidnap plots targeting real
women may have started as fantasy chats but grew into real plans.
Valle was convicted, although he is appealing the verdict.
This week, Michael Van Hise, 23, of New Jersey, and Robert
Christopher Asch, 62, a former New York City school librarian, will
be tried on the same key charge. Van Hise faces a single kidnapping
conspiracy count, and Asch faces two. Both men's cases arose from
the investigation into Valle.
Attorneys for both defendants said they will advance the same
defense as Valle.
"The defense in all these cases is the same for a reason," said
Asch's attorney, Brian Waller. "It's true."
A fourth man linked with the group, Richard Meltz, pleaded guilty
last month to two counts of conspiracy in return for a plea deal.
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Former sex crimes prosecutors, First Amendment lawyers and sexual
behaviorists said Valle's case appears to be the first to center on
a suspected conspiracy to commit a violent sexual crime which began
on a website for sadistic fantasy role play.
"It's the perfect alibi," former state sex crimes prosecutor Linda
Fairstein told Reuters last year.
Defense attorneys say the men were part of a popular and lawful but
misunderstood online fantasy role-playing community, and never
intended to break the law.
"You draw on your real life to make it as real as possible, but it's
fantasy," Van Hise defense attorney Alice Fontier told a judge last
Van Hise began cooperating with federal investigators when he was
first approached in late 2012, Fontier said. Van Hise then
introduced Asch and Meltz to a female undercover federal agent that
the trio discussed kidnapping and cannibalizing.
A spokesperson for Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has
declined to comment.
(Reporting by Chris Francescani; editing by Dina Kyriakidou and
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