Third woman testifies in cannibalism conspiracy case
This undated photo submitted into evidence by assistant federal defender Julia L. Gatto shows Gilberto Valle with his daughter. (AP Photo/Assistant Federal Defender Julia L. Gatto)
Published Tuesday, February 26, 2013 1:17PM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, February 26, 2013 5:47PM EST
NEW YORK -- A woman who prosecutors said was one of the intended victims of a New York police officer's cannibalism plot told a jury she never felt threatened by the man, providing an opening for the defence to highlight claims that it was all fantasy.
Kimberly Sauer, 29, was called as a government witness on the second day of 28-year-old Officer Gilberto Valle's trial on charges that he conspired to kidnap, kill and eat women he had described in chats on a fetish website.
Sauer, Valle's former college classmate, testified that she received a disturbing Facebook message from Valle's wife last year in the middle of the night that sounded so crazy that she texted him to warn that the account must have been hacked. Either that "or you're trying to sell me into white slavery," she recalled joking in the text.
On cross examination, Sauer told defence attorney Julia Gatto that she never felt threatened by Valle.
Her testimony was similar to that of Andria Noble, a 27-year-old state prosecutor in Ohio, who told the jury late Monday that she never saw Valle be violent when she knew him at the University of Maryland and he delivered on a promise to provide her with her own bedroom when she visited him once in New York.
"I made sure he knew it was just strictly as friends," Noble testified.
Maureen Hartingan, a former high school classmate of Valle, followed Sauer to the witness stand, saying she hadn't seen him in a couple of years when he suggested that he stop by her job to say hello. He was in uniform when he showed up outside her Times Square office building in his police cruiser.
Hartingan, 26, testified there was "nothing unusual" about the visit with someone who had asked her out in high school, when she made it clear she just wanted to be friends.
She said that in the last year they had exchanged birthday greetings and other pleasantries. Valle had bragged about his daughter, Josephine, and how he was hoping for a promotion at the police department, she recalled. Once, she said, she even suggested he and his wife stop by her new apartment.
When a defence lawyer asked if there was anything in the interactions "that created alarm in your mind," she said there was not.
Kristin Ponticelli, an 18-year-old woman who attended Valle' high school alma mater, was asked if she knew Valle.
"I do now," she said of the man prosecutors say had referred to her on the Internet as "the most desirable piece of meat I've ever met" and small enough to fit in his oven. She said, though, that she had never had contact with him.
The women were called by the government to show jurors that the women Valle described on the Internet were potential victims of violence.
The officer has claimed his online discussions of cannibalism were harmless fetish fantasies. But in opening statements on Monday, a prosecutor said "very real women" were put in jeopardy.
Valle's wife, 27-year-old Kathleen Mangan-Valle, testified as the trial's first witness that she fled their Queens home with their 1-year-old daughter after learning about her husband's Internet interests.
Days later, she said, she used a program she had installed to trace Valle's keystrokes to learn that he had written hundreds of emails and instant messages chronicling how he and his Internet pals would kidnap, rape, kill, cook and eat various women. Included among the targets, she said, were his wife and their female friends. She turned over the computer to the FBI, which arrested Valle in late October. He has remained jailed without bail on charges that could carry a life sentence.
FBI Agent Corey Walsh testified Tuesday that the federal probe began after Mangan-Valle gave the FBI a computer Valle had used.
Walsh described communications between Valle and his co-defendant, Michael Vanhise, of Trenton, N.J. Walsh said the two negotiated the price to be paid for a Manhattan teacher to be brought to New Jersey in a suitcase for Vanhise to rape and kill.
Vanhise has pleaded not guilty. His lawyers also say he only engaged in Internet fantasy chats.
The agent said Valle asked Vanhise whether he wanted her clothed or naked and the 22-year-old said he wanted her clothed.
"Excellent. I'll leave her clothes on. I'll give you the pleasure of unwrapping your gift," Valle was quoted as saying.
Later, Walsh described Valle's online communications between Valle and an Internet user identified as "Moody Blues" in which they discuss women the officer offers to help abduct and cook.
One had "Meet Kristin" in the subject line and a photo of Ponticelli attached. In another, Valle suggests a woman named Kimberly -- prosecutors say Sauer -- would be easy prey because she lived alone.
"I can knock her out, wait until dark and kidnap her right out of her house," he allegedly wrote.
At one point, the agent said, "Moody Blues" suggests eating their victim alive, but Valle responded: "I'm not really into raw meat."
Walsh said they also discussed cooking Sauer over an open fire, basted in olive oil, and using her cutoff head as a centerpiece for a sit-down meal.
"I just can't wait to get Kimberly cooking," the agent quoted Valle as saying.
Earlier, U.S. District Judge Paul G. Gardephe had refused to reconsider a previous ruling barring the jury from seeing Internet exchanges in which "Moody Blues" discusses a desire to eat children.
Gardephe noted that Valle never expressed a similar interest. If jurors heard about violence against children, they "would improperly and unfairly hold it against the defendant," the judge said.