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A former New York City police officer -- dubbed the "cannibal cop" after his online postings about wanting to kidnap, murder, and cook women led to his arrest -- was released from jail Tuesday after his conspiracy conviction was overturned.
A federal judge threw out 30-year-old Gilberto Valle's conviction, ordered him to be released on bond, and granted him a new trial. Prosecutors say they will appeal.
Why did the judge reverse the jury's conviction?
Conspiracy v. 'Fantasy Role Play'
Valle was facing a potential life sentence following his conviction last June. But upon appeal, Judge Paul Gardephe found that Valle's Internet writings about various potential female victims -- including his estranged wife -- were just "fantasy role play," Reuters reports.
A criminal conspiracy exists when two or more people agree to commit a crime, then take some sort of action toward completing that crime. At his 2013 trial, Valle's defense lawyers argued that Valle's online conversations with other men who shared similar sexual fantasies did not sufficiently constitute a step towards committing any crime; however, a jury felt otherwise.
Valle was also convicted of improperly accessing a law-enforcement database, which he used to look up what prosecutors characterized as his potential victims, including his ex-wife, a former college friend, and a high-school student. That conviction, which can be punished by up to a year in prison, was upheld Tuesday.
Setting Aside Guilty Verdict
Although unusual, under the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, a judge can set aside a jury's guilty verdict if he feels the evidence is insufficient to support the verdict.
In this case, the judge upheld Valle's conviction for improperly accessing a law enforcement database, but ruled that there was insufficient evidence for the conspiracy to kidnap conviction.
In his lengthy 118-page ruling, posted online by The New York Times, Judge Gardephe found that "no real-world non-Internet-based steps were ever taken to kidnap anyone." He noted that Valle consistently fabricated information about both himself and the "victims," and that Valle and his alleged co-conspirators never met in person or even spoke on the telephone.
Valle was released on $100,000 bond pending an appeal of the ruling, but was ordered to stay off the Internet and is subject to home detention with electronic monitoring.