- The victim awoke as another passenger was assaulting her with his hands, prosecutors said
- She reported the incident to flight attendants, as did a third passenger who saw the assault
- A 49-year-old New Jersey man was arrested when the plane landed
- That man was convicted Friday and could be sentenced to life in prison
A New Jersey man was convicted Friday of sexually abusing a woman while she slept during a 2012 airline flight, the U.S. district attorney's office said.
Bawer Aksal, 49, of North Bergen was convicted of one count of sexual abuse and one count of abusive sexual contact following a five-day trial in federal court. The jury in Newark deliberated seven hours before returning its guilty verdicts, according to a statement from the federal prosecutor's office.
Aksal was arrested in August 2012 when he arrived aboard a flight from Phoenix, Arizona, to Newark Liberty International Airport. According to the statement, Aksal was sitting in the middle seat in a row of three seats, while the victim was next to him in the window seat.
The incident took place about an hour before landing, when the aisle passenger looked to his right and saw Aksal "half into the victim's seat, with his body against the victim's. His right arm around the back of her and his left hand beneath a sweater that was draped over her."
The victim awoke to find Aksal's hands insider her shirt and shorts, and she struggled out of his grasp, the prosecutor's statement said.
Both the aisle passenger and the victim immediately headed to the back of the plane to report what happened to the flight attendants.
The federal government has exclusive jurisdiction over all sexual abuse cases that occur on U.S. flights, as such events are outside the jurisdiction of any state.
Aksal now faces a maximum sentence of life in prison and a $250,000 fine.
"Mr. Aksal is very disappointed," Aksal's attorney, Robert J. Degroot. told CNN after the verdict. "He felt that the trial presented evidence that did not meet the necessary burden. He has faith in the American system and he feels that he will ultimately be vindicated."
Aksal is scheduled to be sentenced in court on October 23.