A federal judge has overturned the conviction of a former New York City policeman accused of plotting to kidnap, kill and eat young women.
Judge Paul Gardephe ruled late on Monday that there was insufficient evidence to support the March 2013 conviction of Gilberto Valle.
Valle, dubbed the “Cannibal Cop”, has been in prison since his arrest in 2012 and faced a maximum life penalty.
Following his acquittal of kidnapping conspiracy charges, the most serious count he faced, his defence attorney Julia Gatto said: “The judge's well-reasoned decision validates what we have said since the beginning: There was no crime.
"Gil Valle is innocent of any conspiracy. Gil is guilty of nothing more than having unconventional thoughts," she said.
She added: “Gil Valle has been in jail for 18 long months, 7 months in solitary confinement, for a crime he absolutely didn't commit.
“We're relieved he will be free and incredibly grateful to Judge Gardephe for upholding the awesome and fundamental legal principles at stake here, including our core freedom to be able to think what we want free of government intrusion.”
Prosecutors had argued that Valle took steps to carry out his plot, including looking up potential targets on a restricted law enforcement database; searching the Internet for how to knock someone out with chloroform and where to get torture devices and other tools.
And the jury had concluded Valle wasn't just fantasizing when he conversed online with others he had never met about killing and cooking his wife and others in a cannibalism plot.
However, in his 118-page opinion, first reported by The New York Times, Gardephe said: “The evidentiary record is such that it is more likely than not the case that all of Valle's Internet communications about kidnapping are fantasy role-play.”
Gardephe upheld Valle's conviction on a charge of illegally gaining access to the law enforcement database, which carried a maximum sentence of one year, and planned a hearing Tuesday morning on the status of the case.
In one of the numerous online conversations shown to the jury during the trial, Valle told a man he met in a fetish chat room: "I want her to experience being cooked alive. She'll be trussed up like a turkey. ... She'll be terrified, screaming and crying."
In another exchange, Valle suggested a woman he knew would be easy prey because she lived alone. The men discussed cooking her, basted in olive oil, over an open fire and using her severed head as a centrepiece for a sit-down meal.
Additional reporting by Associated Press