Airline passenger convicted of sexually abusing woman on plane could face life in prison

(CNN) — A man accused of undressing and fondling a Spirit Airlines passenger while she was asleep could spend the rest of his life behind bars.

Prabhu Ramamoorthy, 35, was convicted of sexual abuse on board an aircraft for digitally penetrating the victim, the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan said.

His sentencing date is set for December 12, and he could face up to life in prison. After finishing his sentence, Ramamoorthy — who is in the United States on a work visa — will be deported to his home country. The criminal complaint against Ramamoorthy did not specify his home country, though NPR reports he is from India.

Attorneys for Ramamoorthy did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.

The abuse happened in January during an overnight flight from Las Vegas to Detroit. According to the Washington Post, Ramamoorthy was traveling with his wife, sitting between her and his victim.

The 22-year-old woman said she fell asleep leaning against the window, the criminal complaint states. She woke up to a hand down her pants and noticed that her pants and her shirt were unbuttoned and the passenger next to her was fondling her, the court filing says.

The passenger stopped when she woke up, and she immediately told a flight attendant what happened, the complaint states.

Ramamoorthy was taken into custody when the flight landed. He said in a written statement that he was in “deep sleep,” the complaint states. However, the Washington Post reports Ramamoorthy’s wife later said the pill was “plain Tylenol.”

He also said the woman fell asleep on his knees and he is “not sure where [he] kept the hand on her.”

“Through my knowledge I didn’t [sic] anything to her,” Ramamoorthy said, according to the complaint.

In an interview with an FBI agent, Ramamoorthy said he “might have” undone the woman’s bra while playing with it, and that he had cupped her breasts over her clothes, the complaint states. He indicated he unzipped her pants partway and put his finger into her pants and tried to fondle her, the court filing says.

“What makes this offense particularly egregious and the defendant even more of a danger to the community is the fact that it took place on an airplane,” said federal prosecutor Amanda Jawad, according to the Post. “He was brazen enough to do this basically in public, next to his wife where anyone could have seen him.”

A federal jury deliberated for less than four hours before reaching a guilty verdict Thursday. Afterward, US Attorney Matthew Schneider praised the victim for speaking out about the abuse.

“Everyone has the right to be secure and safe when they travel on airplanes,” Schneider said.

“We will not tolerate the behavior of anyone who takes advantage of victims who are in a vulnerable position, and we are glad the jury agreed. We appreciate the victim in this case for her courage to speak out.”

This case is one example of what some women have said is a hidden reality of commercial air travel. Though it’s difficult to track how frequently assaults occur on flights, FBI investigations into midair sexual assaults have increased by 66% from fiscal year 2014 to 2017.

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