Michael Van Hise, 23, and Christopher Asch, 61, were clearly
engaged in sheer fantasies, and even their most graphic online
ruminations betray an obvious lack of intent to act them out, the
attorneys told jurors in closing arguments at their trial.
Van Hise, a mechanic from Trenton, New Jersey, and Christopher Asch,
a former New York City high school librarian, are both charged with
conspiring to kidnap female members of Van Hise's family, some of
Their arrests last year stemmed from the investigation of a former
New York City police officer, Gilberto Valle, who was convicted of
conspiring to kidnap women with the intent of cannibalizing them.
The Manhattan federal court jury was due to being deliberating the
case on Wednesday. Both men face up to life in prison if convicted.
A third man accused of being part of the plot, Richard Meltz,
pleaded guilty last month to two kidnapping conspiracy counts as
part of a deal with prosecutors and awaits sentencing.
Summing up the defense case for Van Hise and Asch, their lawyers
told jurors that their clients' online banter was at most
hare-brained, and so half-hearted that many months passed without
any contact between the two.
They pointed to evidence in the defendants' own email communications
to counter the prosecution's case that the pair were on the verge of
carrying out a real kidnapping plot, only to be foiled by the
intervention of FBI agents.
Alice Fontier, a lawyer for Van Hise, read aloud from an email
exchange between the defendants in which Van Hise wrote that they
might kill a woman by choking her using only their penises, "like
the weapons they are." Fontier argued to the jury this was a
patently absurd notion.
"I can't believe I'm going to say this out loud," Fontier said, "let
alone in federal court: penises aren't murder weapons. This is
NOTHING SEXY ABOUT BLEACH
Defense lawyers also pointed that the pair met in person just once,
in the spring of 2011, and only began to chat online again in March
2012. Van Hise then began sending photographs of his wife,
sister-in-law and nieces to Asch.
Even some of Van Hise's seemingly less outlandish emails lack
credibility as signs of true conspiracy, Fontier said.
In one message to Asch, Van Hise said his sister-in-law could be
easily kidnapped as she left her office because there were no
security cameras. In fact, Fontier said, Van Hise knew his
sister-in-law did not have a job and no office to go to.
Similarly, Van Hise suggested his wife could be kidnapped by someone
pretending to be a repair man to lure her to her basement, even
though she lived in a second-floor apartment without any basement
access, Fontier said.
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His wife, Bolice Van Hise, testified on Monday that she learned of
her husband's fetishes shortly after their wedding in 2010 and had
access to his emails and online accounts. She said she knew he sent
pictures of her to strange men online, though she was unhappy to
learn that he had also been sharing pictures and fantasies involving
her sister-in-law and nieces.
Fontier also noted that investigators did not arrest or charge Van
Hise for more than two months or warn his wife, indicating that they
did not believe he posed a real threat.
Asch was taken into custody after arriving at a meeting with an
undercover agent with two bags filled with tools for kidnapping and
torture that he believed the man was going to store in a remote
location for safekeeping, prosecutors said.
Asch alone also faces a second count of conspiring to kidnap a woman
in early 2013 who turned out to be another FBI agent involved in a
In her summation, federal prosecutor Hadassa Waxman said there was
clear evidence that Asch went far beyond the realm of role playing,
citing his purchase of a powerful stun gun.
Waxman held up the other items Asch had bought one by one, each
sealed in a plastic evidence bag, before dropping them to the floor:
handcuffs, a meat mallet, skewers, alligator clamps, a leg-spreader,
But she pointedly saved the most banal items for last, saying that
they showed Asch was thinking about details that he otherwise might
be expected to ignore for a mere fantasy.
"These are very practical items," Waxman said, pointing to the final
three exhibits: "There is nothing sexual about bleach, or paper
towels, or disposable gloves."
(Editing by Steve Gorman and Lisa Shumaker)
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