Courthouse in Manhattan where the trial of police officer Gilberto Valle is taking place, February 25, 2013
The estranged wife of a New York policeman sobbed as she testified that her husband, who is accused of plotting to kidnap and cannibalize women, went online to discuss torturing and killing her.
Kathleen Mangan-Valle, 27, was the star witness for the prosecution in a trial that opened with her telling the jury that Gilberto Valle had a desire to "cannibalize human flesh."
The allegations are so gruesome that the court had to screen potential jurors for their views on extreme sexual fantasies, showing them a photograph of a woman trussed up in a cooking pan, with an apple stuffed in her mouth.
Mangan-Valle said she caught her husband, who has pleaded not guilty to a kidnapping conspiracy, visiting websites that were dedicated to violent sexual fetishes. The couple were raising a young daughter at the time.
Repeatedly crying in the crammed Manhattan federal courtroom, Mangan-Valle described her decision to flee the house with the baby after finding horrific pictures on a computer from one of Valle's late-night Internet sessions.
"The girl on the front page was dead," she said, while another website her husband visited featured "pictures of feet that were not attached to bodies."
On closer inspection, she realized that Valle, 28, had exchanged "thousands of emails" with other death porn enthusiasts and that he had shared photographs of people they knew.
"Suddenly I was staring at pictures of me, at pictures of friends," Mangan-Valle said.
In one plan discussed online, "I was going to be tied up by my feet and my wrists and my throat slit and they were going to watch the blood drain out of me."
Overcome, Mangan-Valle was allowed to compose herself outside of the courtroom. Her husband sat at the defendant's table with his head in his hands.
But Valle's attorney, Julia Gatto, countered that the six-year veteran of the New York Police Department had only been fantasizing the whole time, and said her client was a good family man, despite "very bizarre" sexual fantasies.
She said the website where he exchanged his horrific ideas has 38,000 other registered members, all of them just fantasists.
"This is the difference between reality and fantasy. There is a difference between make believe and the real world: that's what this case is about," she said.
However, lead prosecutor Randall Jackson called that defense "utterly bogus" and said Valle was targeting "very real" women, in one instance "discussing the logistics of fitting her into an oven."
The intense testimony by Mangan-Valle, in which she recounted turning her husband over to the FBI, hit a dramatic pitch when Gatto showed the court photos of the estranged couple in happier times.
One snap showed Valle in police uniform cradling their newborn baby in hospital, illustrating Gatto's argument that her client was not a dangerous husband.
Seeing the pictures, Mangan-Valle and her husband both immediately broke down, the accused man slumping in tears at the table where he sat and the woman accusing him crying so hard on the witness stand that she couldn't talk.
Valle is accused of conspiracy to kidnap and illegally accessing law enforcement databases for detailed research on potential victims.
He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted on the kidnapping conspiracy charge.
The officer, who had been aiming for promotion to sergeant, is in custody in Manhattan at the Metropolitan Correctional Center's Special Housing Unit for high-security prisoners.