A Catholic priest was sentenced to six months in prison and six months of home confinement for sexually assaulting a sleeping woman sitting next to him on a cross country flight from Philadelphia to Los Angles in August 2014. Forty-six-year-old Marcelo de Jesumaria was sentenced on 24 August in a federal court in Los Angeles.
According to the Associated Press, a jury found Jesumaria guilty in May of felony abusive sexual contact following a mistrial in March. Prosecutors said the priest touched the sleeping woman's breast, buttocks and groin during their night flight. The victim, a model, said she woke up to Jesumaria's touching and reported it to flight attendants and later the FBI.
The woman was reportedly pale, shaking and on the verge of crying when she reported her assault to flight attendants. She was then moved to another seat, and Jesumaria was arrested by FBI upon landing at Los Angeles.
Jesumaria told authorities that he enjoyed "cozy flights" with women and that he intentionally switched his seat to be next to his victim. However, he denied touching her, the AP reported. Jesumaria switched his seat by telling a flight attendant that the woman was his wife, prosecutors said.
Steven Cron, Jesumaria's defence attorney, said the convicted priest did not deserve to be sent to prison because he is seeking therapy and understands how serious his actions are. The lawyer told reporters that Jesumaria tried to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge but that prosecutors pursued a felony conviction.
"Someone could say he brought it on himself. But I think the same message could have been brought as a misdemeanor conviction, which would have allowed him to continue as a priest with a stern warning about his behavior," said Cron. "Now that's over, and I think that's a sad ending to this tale."
According to the AP, prosecutors said Jesumaria blamed the victim for his actions in his testimony. He allegedly believed his touching was consensual "because she did not reject his touches and he interpreted her silence, because she was asleep, as 'coyness.'"
CBS Los Angeles reported that during the sentencing hearing, the victim described the "fear, frustration and anxiety" she has suffered because of the abuse and said she is reminded of it daily partly because she regularly travels on airplanes for work.
The Diocese of San Bernardino, to which Jesumaria used to belong to, denounced his actions as "sinful and unlawful," the AP reported. "We removed him from ministry in the diocese immediately after we became aware of this allegation in November," the statement read. "We are deeply regretful of any harm that may have occurred as a result of his actions."