The government has introduced jurors to women supposedly targeted by an NYPD officer accused in a cannibalism plot, but the witnesses' lack of knowledge of any sinister plans provided an opening for the defense to highlight claims that it was all fantasy.
Kimberly Sauer, 29, of Germantown, Md., was called as a government witness Tuesday 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 defense 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 Columbus, Ohio, who told the jury late Monday that she never saw Valle be violent when she knew him at the University of Maryland. She said he delivered on a promise to provide her with her own bedroom when she visited him once in New York during a break from law school.
"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 defense lawyer asked if there was anything in the interactions "that created alarm in your mind," she said there was not.
An 18-year-old woman who testified said she didn't know Valle.
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.
Out of the presence of the jury Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Paul G. Gardephe refused to reconsider a previous ruling barring evidence that Valle chatted with a man known as "Moody Blues" about the man's 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.