Los Angeles: A California-based Catholic priest was sentenced to six months in prison followed by six months of home confinement for groping a sleeping woman seated next to him on an airliner.
Marcelo de Jesumaria, 46, was sentenced in federal court in Los Angeles yesterday. A jury found him guilty in May of felony abusive sexual contact after a mistrial in March.
Jesumaria touched the sleeping woman's buttocks, breast and groin during a nighttime flight last August from Philadelphia to Los Angeles, according to prosecutors.
The woman, a model, says she woke up as Jesumaria was touching her and reported the abuse to flight attendants and later an FBI agent.
Jesumaria told the agent that he enjoys "cozy flights" with women and purposefully changed his seat to be next to the woman, but he denied touching her, according to prosecutors.
Prosecutors say Jesumaria was able to switch seats by lying to a flight attendant that the woman was his wife.
Jesumaria's attorney, Steven Cron, argued that his client didn't deserve prison, saying he's in therapy and understands the seriousness of his actions.
Cron said Jesumaria repeatedly offered to plead guilty to a misdemeanour charge but prosecutors wanted a felony conviction.
Jesumaria was previously with the Diocese of San Bernardino, California.
The diocese said in a statement that Jesumaria's actions are "sinful and unlawful."
"We removed him from ministry in the diocese immediately after we became aware of this allegation in November," the statement said. "We are deeply regretful of any harm that may have occurred as a result of his actions."
Prosecutors argued that Jesumaria's testimony blamed the victim and considered his touching her consensual "because she did not reject his touches and he interpreted her silence, because she was asleep, as 'coyness.' "
Cron acknowledged that Jesumaria now realises "it was inappropriate to touch her at all without her consent." He said Jesumaria maintains that he never touched the woman in any private areas.