MANHATTAN (CN) - Three men accused of sensational plots to kidnap, rape and torture women pleaded not guilty Thursday to a new indictment that erases mention of New York City's so-called cannibal cop.
After the brief arraignment, an attorney for New Jersey resident Michael Vanhise, 22, reasserted that her client's disturbing chats were morbid sexual fantasy, not a murderous plot. She added that he informed the Hamilton Township police "at least four times" about others who seemed to be serious, yet his complaints were never recorded.
Hamilton police did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Prior to his January arrest and commitment to an isolation unit of Manhattan's Metropolitan Correction Center, Vanhise was a young father of three living in his grandparents' basement in New Jersey.
Vanhise has not denied that he chatted with strangers on Darkfetishnet.com about kidnapping, raping and killing women. One of his chat buddies was NYPD Officer Gilberto Valle, who was convicted of a cannibalism conspiracy related to those chats last month.
Alice Fontier, a lawyer for Vanhise, said her client did not share Valle's flesh-eating fantasies.
Vanhise's original indictment alluded to Valle as a "CC-1," short for "co-conspirator," not his tabloid-given moniker "cannibal cop."
That detail has disappeared from a superseding indictment prosecutors filed on April 15, which added former Stuyvesant High School librarian Robert Asch and Massachusetts Veterans Affairs police chief Robert Meltz as defendants.
Vanhise allegedly chatted with Meltz and Asch about kidnapping, raping, and killing his wife, his sister-in-law, her children, and his stepdaughter.
In October 2012, Meltz allegedly responded to the proposal by writing to Vanhise in an email: "we go over there she know you let's [sic] us in we choke her out tie her up throw her in the back of your car take her someplace and [rape and torture her]."
Police arrested Valle that month, after his wife tipped the FBI about her husband's chats. The investigation into that case snared Vanhise in January.
While Vanhise was tucked away in jail, undercover FBI agents met with Meltz and Asch starting in March, culminating in meetings that led to their arrest.
"On April 14, 2013, Meltz met with UC-1 at a location in New Jersey," the FBI said in a statement. "This meeting was recorded and observed by FBI agents. At the meeting, Meltz and UC-1 discussed the kidnapping and murder of UC-3. Meltz advised UC-1 on how best to dispose of UC-3's body, including how to transport it from the crime scene to a desolate location in the woods in upstate New York. Meltz told UC-1 that given the weather at the time of year, if UC-3's body were left in the woods, wild animals would likely find and destroy it before law enforcement could find it."
The FBI said Asch met UC-1 in lower Manhattan on April 15, 2013, "to conduct surveillance of UC- 3."
"UC-1 and Asch previously had discussed Asch giving UC-1 the tools Asch had gathered to use for the kidnapping, so that UC-1 could take them to the location where UC-3 was to be brought following her abduction," it added. "Asch brought to the April 15 meeting two bags of tools intended to be used in the kidnapping, rape, torture, and murder of UC-3, including, but not limited to, a Taser gun, rope, a meat hammer, duct tape, gloves, cleaning supplies, zip ties, a dental retractor, two speculums, 12-inch skewers, pliers, a wireless modem, and a leg spreader."
All three men pleaded not guilty at the brief Thursday arraignment.
Meanwhile, Vanhise's attorney Fontier seemed eager to distance her client from Meltz and Asch, hoping to sever their cases from that of her client. She noted that Vanhise, unlike his co-defendants, is not accused of taking his alleged plot outside the Internet.
She is also weighing the lessons of the Valle case.
Vanhise's legal team has not decided, for example, whether to try the case in front of a judge or jury.
After Valle's conviction, his attorneys asserted that the shocking nature of the fantasies clouded jurors' objectivity about whether the police officer ever planned to carry them out.
Fontier told reporters that she currently plans to file a motion to exclude mention of cannibalism from Vanhise's upcoming trial, currently slated for November, because he isn't accused of planning to eat his alleged targets.
She wanted to "cap the creepiness," she explained.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.