NEWARK, N.J. — A northern New Jersey man was convicted Friday of sexually abusing a woman on a cross-country flight who said she woke up to find his hands reaching around from behind to molest her.
Bawer Aksal, 49, Turkish-born American citizen, was convicted of sexual abuse and abusive sexual contact for his actions on a United Airlines flight last August from Phoenix to Newark.
The woman testified that she awoke from sleeping to find Aksal reaching around from behind her to fondle her breasts with one hand and sticking his other hand down her underpants and penetrating her with his fingers. She testified she immediately pushed him away and got up to notify flight attendants.
The 50-year-old victim, who testified under an alias because of the nature of the charges, attended Friday's proceeding and sat in the gallery behind the prosecution table.
"I'm relieved that justice has been served," she told The Record of Woodland Park afterward. "I am glad that I can move forward knowing that I made the right decision by speaking up. I hope that others won't let the humiliation of a trial hold them back from keeping sexual molesters off the street."
Aksal, of North Bergen, didn't testify but told authorities after his arrest that the woman made unwanted sexual advances toward him and forced his hands to touch her.
A flight attendant testified that the woman was shaking and crying after the encounter, and a man who sat next to Aksal testified that he saw Aksal in a "spooning" position with the woman with one hand under a sweater on her lap and the other around her shoulders.
DNA samples were taken from Aksal and the woman, but tests at an FBI lab weren't conclusive, an expert testified during the trial.
Aksal faces a maximum penalty of life in prison and a $250,000 fine when he is sentenced in October.
The trial was held in federal court because crimes that occur on flights fall under federal jurisdiction.