The same Manhattan federal judge who freed NYPD “Cannibal Cop” Gilberto Valle after finding that Valle’s plans to kidnap, cook, and eat women were mere fantasy has upheld the convictions of two similar fellow fetishists.
Former Stuyvesant High School librarian Robert Christopher Asch (above, right) and New Jersey mechanic Michael Van Hise (above, left) were serious about kidnapping various female members of Van Hise’s family, Judge Paul Gardephe said in a 92-page ruling on Tuesday. “There was ample evidence from which a reasonable jury could infer that (they) agreed to ‘seize’ or ‘abduct’ one or more of Van Hise’s family members,” the judge said in the ruling.
Van Hise and Asch, along with Richard Meltz, a former police chief at a veterans center, allegedly planned kidnappings of Van Hise’s wife, step-daughter, sister-in-law, and nieces. All three men were, like Valle, registered users of DarkFetishNet, an online forum where tens of thousands of individuals share their musings about gruesome sexual fantasies including cannibalism and necrophilia — and were arrested following the FBI’s investigation into Valle.
The cases hinged on the boundaries between erotic fantasies and real-life plans, and Valle’s conviction and subsequent acquittal ignited a national debate encompassing fantasy, the First Amendment, and sex.
Van Hise was busted after authorities uncovered email conversations he had with Valle, in which he allegedly agreed to pay Valle $5,000 to render a woman unconscious, stuff her into a suitcase, and bring her to his home in New Jersey to be raped. Van Hise was initially accused of scheming with Valle, but references to Valle and cannibalism were ultimately excluded from the indictment in the case against Asch and Van Hise.
Valle was convicted of kidnapping conspiracy in March 2013, and spent two years behind bars before Judge Gardephe ordered that he be freed in 2014. According to the judge, the government never proved that Valle’s plans to kidnap, kill, cook, and eat his then-wife and other women were anything more than fantasy.
Conversely, Gardephe found that Asch and Van Wise had actually taken concrete steps to put their plans into motion. The judge mentioned the fact that the two men met in person in Trenton, New Jersey, in order to pick out locations to dump the bodies — as well as Asch’s recorded conversation when he stated that he believed Van Hise was “pretty serious” about murdering his wife.
Van Hise was convicted despite the fact that his wife — and alleged target — testified on his behalf and stated that she had been aware of his fetishes for more than 20 years.
Asch was also convicted of targeting another woman, who turned out to be an undercover FBI agent. He was accused of amassing a stock of torture tools — including a 20-million-volt stun gun, skewers, and gynecological implements — as part of his alleged plot to kidnap the agent.
“Today, a unanimous jury found that the twisted conspiracies of Michael Van Hise and Robert Christopher Asch were not mere fantasy, but steps within very real plans to kidnap real victims,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement following the verdict in 2014.
But lawyers for both men claimed that their clients’ communications were no more real than horror movies, as was the case with Valle — and the debate over the so-called “thought crime convictions” continues.
Main photos: Michael Van Hise (left) and Robert Christopher Asch (right) [NYPD]