Car mechanic gets 7 years in prison for kidnap-killing plot
NEW YORK (AP) — A New Jersey car mechanic was sentenced to seven years in prison on Tuesday in a plot to kidnap, torture and kill women and girls, bringing an end to a criminal case that shed light on cannibalism and other fetishes circulating in dark corners of the internet.
The sentence means Michael Van Hise will spend about six additional months in prison on top of the 5½ years he already has served.
U.S. District Judge Paul G. Gardephe’s sentence was less than half of what federal sentencing guidelines recommended.
The Manhattan jurist noted that Van Hise, 28, had cooperated with the FBI and had suffered a difficult childhood that included learning disabilities, parents who abandoned him and impediments that left him playing with little trucks and cars in his room at age 23 as if he were a child.
He also said Van Hise was less culpable than his co-defendants: a school librarian and a former Massachusetts police chief who were sentenced to 15 and 10 years in prison respectively for their roles.
But Gardephe said Van Hise earned his prison time by turning to the internet to recruit others to kidnap, rape, torture and murder his wife as well as his sister-in-law and her four children. No one was ultimately harmed.
Defense lawyers insisted that the prosecution stemmed from sexual fantasies explored in an online underground where people shared macabre fetishes.
A jury rejected those arguments, convicting Van Hise at a 2014 trial. The sentencing was delayed for years as Gardephe considered whether to uphold the verdict.
A year before the conviction, Gardephe presided over the headline-grabbing related trial of a police officer accused of plotting abductions and cannibalism.
The officer, Gilberto Valle, was labeled by tabloids as the “cannibal cop” before he was convicted at trial in 2013 on charges that carried a potential life sentence.
Gardephe later rejected the jury verdict and sentenced him to time served on a misdemeanor charge of using a restricted law enforcement database to secretly look up personal information about women he knew.
The New York Police Department patrolman was arrested in 2012 after his wife discovered disturbing material on his computer and reported it to the FBI.
Valle’s “depraved, misogynistic sexual fantasies about his wife, former college classmates and acquaintances undoubtedly reflected a mind diseased,” the judge wrote in his decision to throw out Valle’s kidnapping conviction. But, he added, prosecutors failed to prove he had entered into genuine agreements to kidnap the women and taken concrete steps to carry them out.
In the conspiracy that resulted in Van Hise’s arrest, Gardephe said concrete steps were taken to carry out gruesome acts, including identifying locations where bodies could be buried and purchasing tools that could be used in the kidnap and torture of victims.