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Saturday, February 9, 2013 - Page updated at 04:00 p.m.
N.Y. cannibalism trial jury pool sees kinky images
By LARRY NEUMEISTER
Some prospective jurors in the conspiracy trial of a police officer accused of plotting to kill and eat women were so disturbed at a judge's description of the case and staged pictures depicting women being abused that they said they were too hurt emotionally to be fair.
"I am shaking just writing," one potential juror wrote Friday.
"I feel physically ill," said another.
"Already sick to stomach," said a third.
"As a woman, it literally makes my skin crawl," said one more, who wrote that two photographs and a cartoon of women being abused were "extremely offensive" and "any further evidence along these lines will only make me angry."
It was the first day of trial for Officer Gilberto Valle, who is charged with conspiracy to commit kidnapping and with unauthorized access to a federal database.
The four possible jurors were among 29 dismissed from a group of 90 who filled out a questionnaire, along with another person who said the evidence "would give me nightmares."
Some written responses were read aloud by U.S. District Judge Paul G. Gardephe as lawyers argued which would-be jurors should be brought back Monday for oral questions. The judge had addressed them from a lectern about the charges at the start of the day to emphasize the importance of the 10 questions they were answering.
One juror was overcome with emotion and wrote, "Trying not to cry and become nauseated became the most important thing."
Many jurors were upset at an exhibit attached to the questionnaires that included staged Internet color photographs of a nude woman hogtied on a roasting tray with an apple in her mouth and another naked woman tied horizontally to a pole over an open fire. A cartoon of a bound naked woman boiling in a glass pot also was included.
The judge had warned the potential jurors the trial would feature emails and instant messages in which Valle discussed in great detail the kidnapping, raping, torturing, murdering and cannibalizing of certain women. He said the defense would argue that Valle's communications "were all sexual fantasy and imaginary role-play and that he never intended to kidnap, rape, torture, murder or eat any woman."
Many of Valle's communications occurred on fetish websites on which people discuss, view and post images and videos of deviant conduct, including necrophilia, sexual asphyxiation, genital mutilation, rape fantasies, bondage and various forms of sadomasochism, the judge said.
"You will likely see images from these websites similar to the images attached ... to this questionnaire," he said.
Valle, 28, has been jailed without bail since his arrest in the fall. Prosecutors say he conspired with three others to kidnap eight "specific and identified women." A New Jersey man charged in the case will be tried separately.
Prospective jurors were asked if they could remain impartial after witnessing images and testimony involving graphic descriptions of violence, including sexual violence, and if it bothered them that Valle looked at the images without his wife's knowledge.
They were also asked if evidence that Valle accessed websites devoted to deviant sexual behavior, including highly sexualized violent conduct, would affect their impartiality.
A series of questions focused on their own use of the Internet, including how many hours a day they spend on it, whether they engage in online chatting and whether they have visited some websites likely to be featured during the trial. They also were asked if they wanted their answers to remain confidential.
The judge told lawyers he was not necessarily surprised by the questionnaire responses.
"I suspect it's going to be very difficult for everyone to see the evidence," he said. "Most of us are going to find it difficult to look at."
Opening statements are set for Feb. 25.
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