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'Plane Groper' Guilty of Sexual Abuse of Passenger

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By Brett Snider, Esq. on July 24, 2013 8:55 AM

The "plane groper" from a 2012 United Airlines flight has been found guilty of criminal sexual contact and sexual abuse of a fellow passenger seated next to him.

Bawer Aksal, 49, of North Bergen, New Jersey, was found guilty of "digitally penetrat[ing]" a sleeping woman on a Newark-bound flight, a crime for which he may face life in prison, reports New York's WCBS-TV.

This airborne abuser may be facing a life sentence, but what do his charges actually entail?

Groper on a Plane

In August 2012, Aksal was accused by a 50-year-old female passenger of groping inside her shirt and shorts while she was asleep on the plane, reports WCBS-TV.

The groping incident got Aksal charged with two felony counts:

  1. Engaging in a sexual act with a person either unwilling or incapable of refusing that act (i.e., sexual abuse); and
  2. Abusive sexual contact while in the special territorial jurisdiction of the United States (i.e., while in the air).

The second count for abusive sexual conduct only holds a maximum sentence of two years, which is not much considering a possible life sentence for sexual abuse.

DNA Expert Used

During the prosecution's case against Aksal, an FBI lab expert testified that DNA samples were taken from Aksal and his victim, but the tests on that DNA were inconclusive, reports The Associated Press.

In rape and sexual abuse cases, often DNA evidence (like hairs or fluids) can be left behind, yet eyewitness testimony in Aksal's case seemed sufficient to convict him without a DNA match.

Bail and Sentencing

The United Airlines groper, now convicted, awaits sentencing on October 23, when a judge will determine how much prison time Aksal should receive under federal sentencing guidelines.

The federal court also granted the prosecution's request to hold Aksal as a "flight risk" until his sentencing date, reports WCBS-TV.

Aksal's attorney could move for a future bail hearing, in hopes of allowing his client to be on a period of supervised release for the next three months. But the seriousness of his charges makes this more of a pipe dream.

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