NEW YORK (AP) — A retired Manhattan school librarian muttered "she deserves to die" during surveillance of a target in a ghoulish plot to kidnap, rape and kill women, prosecutors said Thursday as a trial that grew from the case of a police officer accused of plotting cannibalism got underway.
The defense insisted that there was no plot, only fantasy role play of a kind the man had engaged in for decades, with hundreds of men, without hurting anyone. "Thousands if not millions of people have bizarre sexual fantasies," attorney Brian Waller told the Manhattan federal court jury in defense of his client, 61-year-old Robert Christopher Asch. "Chris Asch is one of those people."
A bespectacled Asch in a suit and tie leaned forward and peered toward jurors as Waller defended him against charges he conspired with 23-year-old Michael Vanhise of Trenton, N.J., to brutalize and kill Vanhise's wife, step-daughter, sister-in-law and four nieces under age 10. Asch also is charged separately with plotting to kidnap an undercover FBI agent.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Brooke Cucinella said the plot was not a fantasy. "Their goal was simple and it was horrific," she said. "They wanted to kidnap, rape and kill women and children." She said Asch brought two bags of torture tools including a meat mallet, nails and a high-voltage gun to a lower Manhattan meeting with an FBI agent posing as a co-conspirator so they could watch their target — another undercover FBI agent — walk from a commuter train to her job.
When she emerged, Cucinella said, Asch, who had researched "knockout drug" on the Internet, muttered softly: "She deserves to die." Vanhise, the prosecutor said, offered pictures of his family to others on a sex fetish website as he suggested killing them.
She told jurors they would know the defendants were serious by reading their emails and online chats and by hearing audio of Asch in "vivid conversations." Elizabeth Macedonio, Vanhise's lawyer, said Vanhise "never entered into an agreement to kill anyone." She said his online conversations about killing his pregnant wife was sexual role play like that carried out by thousands everyday on the Internet.
She said it was similar to when married people have "fantasized about the demise of their spouse" but would never do it. Waller said Asch had engaged in similar fantasy role playing about extreme violent sexual fantasies with hundreds of men over the past 30 years and yet he "never hurt anyone in his life."
He said Asch years ago went to sadomasochism clubs to "meet people who would understand, wouldn't judge him." Eventually, he said, the Internet provided a new place to meet like-minded people. Waller noted nearly 40,000 people had signed up to a website where the defendants first met. Prosecutors say it's the same site where Vanhise met former New York City Police Officer Gilberto Valle, who was convicted last year of conspiracy charges after failing with a similar fantasy role play defense. He is awaiting sentencing.
Waller said Asch found it "exciting, maybe even thrilling" to talk with other men about abusing women and that buying torture tools only enhanced the role play. "Chris Asch is no monster," he said. "He's a gentle, soft-spoken 61-year-old retired librarian who has violent sexual fantasies he likes expressing with other men."