NEW YORK (Reuters) - It ended up requiring two bags to carry all the tools he thought they would need to capture, torture, rape and kill the woman they had been watching.
The items gathered by Christopher Asch, 61, a former New York City school librarian whose federal kidnapping conspiracy trial began on Thursday, included a stun gun, meat hammer, dental retractor, leg spreader, rope, duct tape, bleach, 12-inch skewers, two speculums and pliers.
Once his bags were packed, he headed out to join another man he had met through an online fetish community who said he would store the tools for later use, a prosecutor in opening arguments at U.S. District Court in Manhattan told the jury of eight women and four men.
The defense said it was all fantasy play and just part of the conversation Asch had been carrying on for three decades with other men, sometime online, about his violent sexual fantasies.
“As strange as it sounds, he was aroused by the male-bonding aspect of it,” said Asch’s lawyer Brian Waller.
Asch’s arrest last year stemmed from an investigation of Gilberto Valle, the New York City police officer dubbed by tabloids as the “Cannibal Cop”, who was convicted of planning to kidnap and cannibalize women.
In a case that brings to light some of the more esoteric corners of human sexuality and explores the line between fantasy and reality, Waller added that Asch, who is gay, had been in a romantic relationship with a man for 35 years.
Before the Internet even existed, Asch visited underground bondage clubs and posted and replied to classified magazine ads. More recently, he met peers through an online forum that indulges the darkest and most morbid fetishes, including necrophilia.
By early 2013, Asch and the man he met online had singled out a woman and discreetly followed her as she went about her day. Asch went to Home Depot and other retailers with his gruesome shopping list and then one April morning he headed to downtown Manhattan for his appointment to drop off the bags.
“Wearing a black ski jacket, carrying two bags, he was waiting to meet a man with whom he’d been planning a violent kidnapping,” Brooke Cucinella, a federal prosecutor, said.
He soon met the man and together they watched the woman whom they had discussed using the tools on leave a train station on her way to her office.
“When she first came into view,” Cucinella said, “Asch uttered softly, ‘She deserves to die.'”
Unbeknownst to Asch, both the man he met with on the street corner and the woman they were watching were undercover FBI agents.
Asch is on trial with Michael Van Hise, 23, charged with conspiracy to kidnap as a result of their online conversations over two years and a single meeting in person in 2011.
While their words and actions are barely in dispute, the intent behind them is at the heart of the criminal case. The prosecution says the men were on the verge of brutalizing women and children, stopped only by FBI intervention. The defense maintains the two men never dreamed of acting on their fetishes.
“It’s not a crime to have dark sexual fantasies and it’s not a crime to discuss those fantasies with others,” Elizabeth Macedonio, a lawyer for Van Hise, told the jury.
Asch and Van Hise, who both have pleaded not guilty, face a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted. Richard Meltz, a third man accused of being part of the conspiracy, pleaded guilty last month to two kidnapping conspiracy counts as part of a plea deal and is awaiting sentencing.
Jurors were warned by both sides to steel their nerves for graphic testimony. Prosecutor said they would hear about “Van Hise’s detailed thoughts about raping and torturing his nieces and his step-daughter, who lived with him.” The defense variously described Asch and Van Hise’s fantasies as appalling, disgusting, vile, repulsive, twisted, sick, bizarre, extreme and perverse.
The defense sought to portray their clients’ behavior as somewhat normal, saying both nursed fantasies for years without harming anyone and noted the recent global popularity of the ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ series of books, whose sadomasochistic sex scenes have driven sales into the millions.
DarkFetishNet.com, the website through which the men met, has nearly 40,000 men and women registered as users, Waller said, and is only one of countless websites catering to such desires.
Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Andrew Hay