On average, about 97% of federal criminal cases end in a conviction due to a plea of guilty by the defendant. Bawer Aksal, 49, of North Bergen, New Jersey, was part of the 3% who went to trial, a trial that ended last week.
After 7 hours of deliberation on Friday, a jury in federal court in Newark, NJ found Aksal guilty of sexually abusing a sleeping woman aboard a flight from Phoenix to Newark Liberty International Airport last summer on a United Airlines flight.
Bawer Aksal, 49, of North Bergen, New Jersey, was convicted of one count of sexual abuse and one count of abusive sexual contact following a five-day trial before U.S. District Judge Jose L. Linares in Newark federal court.
According to documents filed in this case and the evidence presented at trial, Aksal was a passenger on a cross-country flight on August 20, 2012. He was sitting in the middle seat in a row of three seats. Neither Aksal, the victim, who was seated in the window seat, nor the passenger in the aisle seat knew each other. Before take-off, the victim texted a friend complaining about Aksal’s arm encroaching into her seating area.
About one hour before landing, 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 inside her shirt and shorts and struggled out of his grasp. The aisle passenger observed her jolting awake. The aisle passenger and the victim both gathered their belongings and headed to the back of the plane to report what happened to the flight attendants. He was detained upon arrival in Newark and arrested by FBI agents.
The defendant asserted his right and choice not to testify, but had told authorities after his arrest that the victim made unwanted sexual advances toward him and forced his hands to touch her. Contradicting such a defense, a flight attendant testified that the victim was shaking and crying after the encounter.
The 50-year-old victim, who testified under an alias because of the nature of the charges, attended Friday’s closing arguments and sat in the public gallery behind the prosecution table.
Under federal sentencing statutes and guidelines, he now faces a maximum potential sentence of life in prison and a $250,000 fine. Sentencing before Judge Linares is scheduled for October 23, 2013. As the practice in federal criminal court, a pre-sentence report (PSR) will be prepared to further detail what sentencing factors may be at issue as well as his offense level and criminal history points to determine his advisory sentencing guideline range.