NEW YORK (AP) -- A former high school librarian and an auto mechanic who swapped ideas for abducting, raping and killing women plotted to turn their disturbing fantasies into deadly action, prosecutors told jurors Tuesday, while defense lawyers said the men just thought up scenarios no more real than horror movies or violent pornography.
Retired librarian Christopher Asch and Trenton, N.J., mechanic Michael Van Hise don't dispute that they discussed their ghoulish fetishes, with Van Hise even suggesting female relatives as potential targets and Asch assembling a macabre kit of apparent torture tools. When deliberations in their Manhattan federal conspiracy trial begin as soon as Wednesday, jurors will have to decide whether the men crossed a line between imagination and intention.
In a prosecution that grew out of another shocking case -- that of a police officer accused of plotting to kidnap and kill women and eat their flesh -- Asch and Van Hise are accused of scheming to brutalize Van Hise's wife, step-daughter, sister-in-law and several nieces under age 10. Asch also is charged separately with plotting to kidnap a woman who turned out to be an undercover FBI agent.
While no kidnappings ultimately happened, prosecutors insist the men's objectives were more than mere talk.
"No one is on trial here for engaging in disgusting conversations," Assistant U.S. Attorney Hadassa Waxman said in a closing argument Tuesday. "This trial is about Michael Van Hise and Christopher Asch planning and agreeing to hurt women -- real, live women. ... This was not a joke, folks."
The men met and drove around Trenton talking about spots to dump bodies, and Van Hise emailed Asch photos of the relatives he was targeting and information on where they lived, she noted.
And Asch, as part of the other alleged plot, bought a stun gun, a whip, handcuffs, gynecological instruments and other items, she added.
"They would have carried out their plans if and when they thought they could get away with it if the government had not stopped them," Waxman said.
But defense lawyers say the men weren't actually planning, just pretending, to play out fetishes that thousands of other people also discuss online.
Asch's seeming preparations for a kidnapping -- including covertly watching the undercover agent who posed as a potential target -- were just role-playing that the 61-year-old would never have acted out in real life, attorney Brian Waller said in his summation.
"It's creepy, OK. ... but it was a safe activity," Waller said in his summation.
Van Hise's lawyer, Alice Fontier, said her 24-year-old client was just "a pathetic kid with a limited imagination" who sprinkled ghoulish fetishes with true-to-life details to make his fantasies seem more real, said his lawyer.
But he had so little intention of carrying out his ideas that he told one supposed target -- his wife -- about them, Fontier said. He'd envision scenarios he knew were impossible, such as abducting his sister-in-law from work although she didn't have a job, she added.
"He didn't do anything to anyone," she told jurors, arguing that he created a persona to express dark desires in a way "no different than writing a script for a horror movie or torture porn."
"Don't let the government use your disgust" or fear to gain a conviction, she said.
Van Hise was arrested last year as the case against Officer Gilberto Valle headed toward trial; Asch was arrested about a month after Valle's March 2013 conviction. Valle is awaiting sentencing and appealing his conviction.
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.
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