(Reuters) - A federal jury in New York found a mechanic and a former high-school librarian guilty on Friday of conspiring to kidnap women to satisfy their sexual fetishes for rape and murder that they had originally nursed online via Internet message boards.
Michael Van Hise, 23, and Christopher Asch, 61, were found guilty in U.S. District Court in Manhattan of planning to abduct Van Hise’s wife, sister-in-law, and nieces in a case that hinged on whether it was possible to define the exact point at which fantasy slips into reality.
The arrest of both men last year stemmed from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s case against Gilberto Valle, the former New York City police officer with a cannibalism fetish later convicted of conspiring to kidnap women.
All the men were registered users of DarkFetishNet, an online forum where tens of thousands of people nurse bizarre sexual fantasies, including necrophilia, and which has seen an increase in membership since Valle captured headlines in New York tabloids that dubbed him “Cannibal Cop.”
Asch, who lives in Manhattan, also was convicted on a second count of conspiracy to kidnap a woman he would later discover was an undercover FBI agent involved in a sting operation.
At trial, defense lawyers for both men had repeatedly warned jurors they may find the violent sexual fantasies of Asch and Van Hise revolting, but that the two should not be punished for chatter that would never result in actual harm.
The defense often brought up the popular “Saw” films, known for relentless scenes of torture, and the “Fifty Shades of Grey” books, which have become global bestsellers for their depiction of sadomasochistic sex.
Prosecutors, however, insisted that detailed discussions between the two men about kidnapping and defiling specific women proved they had moved beyond fantasy and into reality.
Lawyers for both men said they would appeal the verdicts.
The jury of eight women and four men deliberated for more than 18 hours over several days before delivering their unanimous verdict on Friday.
Both men face a maximum sentence of life in prison. Judge Paul Gardephe has not yet set a sentencing date.
Reporting by Jonathan Allen; editing by Gunna Dickson