Jurors in the New York ‘cannibal cop' trial - exposed for a week to graphic images and vivid testimony of sexual brutality against women - got a brief dose of comic relief in the form of a colorful Russian Web entrepreneur.
Lawyers for New York Police Officer Gilberto Valle began their defense on Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Manhattan with testimony from the creator of DarkFetishNet.com, who repeatedly compared his violent, sexual, fantasy role-play website to Facebook.
"It's a social media network very similar to Facebook," Sergay Merenkov, 34, said in describing how the site works.
"It does everything that Facebook does," he said during a deposition videotaped in Moscow and played for the federal court jury on Tuesday.
Valle is on trial for conspiring to kidnap, cook and eat women. Authorities say many of Valle's alleged online kidnapping plots were hatched on DarkFetishNet.
Merenkov testified his site is "just like but...oriented to people with fetishes that are not considered to be standard."
Asked later whether he knows all of the 37,000 members of his website, Merenkov - wearing a black t-shirt and sipping from an 'I Love Tea' mug - scoffed at a prosecutor.
"No," he said, drawing muted smiles from weary jurors. "That's like asking Zuckerberg if he knows each and every member of Facebook.''
Merenkov testified that about 70 percent of his site's members come from the United States.
He said he created the site in 2010 for people to engage in forbidden fantasies ranging from asphyxiation to cannibalism in the safety of cyberspace.
Since the trial's start last week, jurors have heard excerpts read aloud from dozens of Web chats and emails in which Valle talked with others in graphic detail about raping, murdering, cooking and eating women.
Those women included his own now-estranged wife, Kathleen Mangan-Valle.
Dubbed the "cannibal cop" by local media, Valle has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to kidnap. If convicted, he faces 20 years to life.
Valle's lawyers said their client's cyber-plots were "pure fiction," no more dangerous than a Stephen King novel or a horror movie.
Forensic psychiatrist Park Dietz, who interviewed serial killer cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer, was expected to testify late on Tuesday or Wednesday.
Valle's secret online life began to unravel last year after Mangan-Valle said he began acting oddly and spending much of his time on the couple's computer. She discovered dozens of files her husband kept on their computer about women - including herself - that he wanted to kidnap, torture and murder, she testified.
She contacted the FBI and Valle was arrested in October.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Randall Jackson has charged that after months of online role play last year, Valle began to act on his fantasies when he met one of his online "targets" for brunch and improperly accessed a law enforcement database to get personal information on another.
Prosecutors have said that out of two dozen online plots to kidnap women, at least three were real.