Michael Van Hise, 23, and Christopher Asch, 61, were convicted in
U.S. District Court in Manhattan of planning to abduct Van Hise's
wife, sister-in-law and nieces in a case that hinged on defining the
point where violent fantasy can slip into criminal intent.
Asch, in a dark suit and tie, watched the jury with an unwavering
gaze as the verdict was read. Van Hise fought back tears as he
looked toward his trembling grandmother, who raised him from infancy
and testified in his defense during the two-week-plus trial.
The jury of eight women and four men deliberated for more than 18
hours over several days before delivering their unanimous guilty
Van Hise, a mechanic from Trenton, New Jersey, and Asch, a onetime
high school librarian from Manhattan, each faces a maximum penalty
of life in prison when sentenced.
Lawyers for both said they would appeal the verdicts.
A third co-conspirator, Richard Meltz, pleaded guilty in January to
two kidnapping conspiracy counts in a deal with prosecutors and
The arrest of all three men last year stemmed from the Federal
Bureau of Investigation's case against Gilberto Valle, the former
New York City police officer who was convicted of conspiring to
kidnap women as part of a cannibalism fetish.
All the men were registered users of DarkFetishNet, an online forum
where tens of thousands of individuals share their musings about
bizarre sexual fantasies, including necrophilia. The site has seen a
marked increase in membership since Valle captured headlines in New
York tabloids that dubbed him "Cannibal Cop."
Asch also was convicted on a second count of conspiracy to kidnap a
woman who, unbeknownst to him at the time, was an undercover FBI
agent involved in a sting operation.
During the trial, defense lawyers for both men had repeatedly argued
that jurors might find the violent sexual fantasies of Asch and Van
Hise repugnant, but that the two should not be punished for chatter
that would never result in actual harm.
Prosecutors insisted that detailed discussions between the two men
about kidnapping and defiling specific women proved they had moved
beyond fantasy and into reality.
Testimony revealed that Van Hise frequently sent pictures of his
wife and other female relatives by email to Asch and other men as
part of their online communications. And Asch purchased a collection
of tools that prosecutors said were intended for kidnapping and
torturing women, including a stun gun and leg spreaders, after he
began talking with another undercover agent who posed as a fellow
Shortly before reaching their verdict, jurors asked to review the
transcripts of several secretly recorded phone calls in which Asch
could be heard speaking at length about how to avoid toll roads once
they had abducted a woman so as not to be tracked — the sort of
mundane detail that the prosecution said a mere fantasist would not
bother to consider.
[to top of second column]
"SHADES OF GREY"?
The defense tried to put Asch and Van Hise's fetishes in a broader
context of mainstream culture by citing the popular "Saw" films,
known for relentless scenes of torture, and the "Fifty Shades of
Grey" books, which have become global bestsellers for their
depiction of sadomasochistic sex.
But, after the verdict, attorneys for both men said they believed
jurors may have been frightened by the relish with which the two
defendants discussed torturing and killing women.
"They voted out of fear in response to the evidence," said Alice
Fontier, a lawyer for Van Hise. "Juries get things wrong."
Van Hise's grandmother, grandfather and aunt, who attended every day
of the trial, left the court with stricken faces, declining comment.
"They love and support him and know that this is online chatter and
never would have hurt anyone in his family," Fontier said.
During the trial, Van Hise's wife, Bolice Van Hise, had testified
that she had long known of her husband's fetishes and that the
couple enjoyed sadomasochistic role playing during sex.
She said she had access to his DarkFetishNet profile and emails and
tolerated him sending pictures of her to strange men he met online,
though prosecutors accused her of lying about this.
During the trial, Asch's lawyer told the jury that his client had
actually been in a romantic relationship with another man for 35
years, and was primarily aroused by the "male-bonding" aspect of his
conversations with men he met online.
His partner could not attend the trial because he now has
Alzheimer's disease, Asch's lawyer said.
Judge Paul Gardephe has not yet set a sentencing date.
(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; editing by Gunna Dickson, Steve Gorman
and Ken Wills)
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