Should we go to jail for our evil thoughts?

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He went online to a dark-side website and exchanged messages with other disturbed individuals about their fantasies. Those fantasies are hellish and evil and demented. But they are fantasies, and that is key. When did we start prosecuting people for their thoughts? The case hangs on the connection or lack of connection between the thought and the deed.

In a way, the Valle conviction is a terrific test case for free speech. Although we despise his fantasies and the emails he exchanged with others, they stopped there. No one got hurt. One of the other “mail men” was arrested in England, and police dug up his backyard looking for human bones. According to Slate magazine, he said, “None of this is real. It’s all fantasy. I’m an idiot.” It seems he is.

The other mail friend, who also used an alias, was arrested in New Jersey. He reportedly had offered Valle money to kidnap a sex slave for him. That guy is in jail, even though his wife referred to him as “a big teddy bear,” according to Slate.

So Gilberto Valle went online, to a website that shall remain unnamed, and there he chatted with other men about their mutual appetite for deviant sex and violence. Their talk turned to the size of their kitchen ovens and how they might carry out their plans over Labor Day Weekend. But Labor Day came and went without incident.

Valle wrote little vignettes about his fantasies, kind of creepy short stories that revealed the twists in his psyche. The other men embellished the stories, suggested other variations on the theme and, in the emails, implied that they might really carry out these perverted adventures.

The defense maintained that saying it might be “real” was part of the kick for the creeps. The prosecution argued that it stopped being fantasy when Valle did things like search for a recipe for chloroform on his very real computer and look up information about prospective victims on his police car computer.

To me, the line was never crossed. No matter how horrible the thought, there was no follow-through.

Gilberto Valle does not belong on the police force. He needs help. People who act on their fantasies, like Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer, cannot live in the world, but that isn’t as clear with Valle.
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