A North Bergen man faces a lengthy prison term after being found guilty on Friday of molesting a 50-year-old New Jersey woman as she slept in the seat next to him aboard a flight from Phoenix to Newark last August.
A jury of nine men and three women deliberated for seven hours over two days before convicting Bawer Aksal, 49, of sexual abuse and abusive sexual contact in an assault that occurred aboard a United Airlines flight about an hour before landing...
The judge set sentencing for Oct. 23. Aksal faces up to life in prison but will likely receive a lesser sentence.
Aksal, whose website lists him as the CEO of a business that provides hospitality consulting services to hotels and restaurants, was arrested by the FBI, hours after the flight arrived at Newark Liberty International Airport on Aug. 20.
His accuser testified over two days that she was returning home after a three-week trip to Colorado and Arizona to visit family and do some sightseeing. She said she wore loose-fitting clothing to cope with the 108-degree heat in Phoenix and fell asleep in her window seat, with her back to Aksal and a jacket over her legs, after watching a movie and reading.
A New York City schoolteacher who sat next to Aksal in the aisle seat was one of four other passengers called to testify during the five-day trial. The teacher, Evan Focht, said Aksal gestured to him to turn off his overhead reading light. When Focht later glanced toward the window, he said, he was shocked to see Aksal curled up against the woman with his arms around her. Before he could decide what to do, the sleeping woman jolted awake and slammed down the armrest between her and Aksal, he said.
Testifying under the assumed name Susan Thomas, the woman described feeling shock and humiliation upon waking to find a stranger molesting her. She told jurors that Aksal had slipped one hand through the sleeve of her blouse, pulled down her strapless bra and was touching her breasts. His other hand, she said, was down the back of her shorts, and he was penetrating her with his thumb and fingers. She said it was the sensation of pain that roused her from sleep.
In a seductive voice, Aksal pressed her closer and whispered, “Kiss me,” she said. In a hushed but firm tone, she commanded him to get off her, pushed him away and then, escorted by Focht, went to the rear of the plane to tell a flight attendant what happened, she said.
Aksal did not testify in his defense. In a statement to the FBI before his arrest, Aksal portrayed himself as the victim, declaring that the woman made unwanted sexual advances toward him, pulled down her shorts and forced his hands to touch her... But text messages that the woman sent to a friend before takeoff showed that she was put off by his “hairy arm” brushing against her.
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