LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — A Catholic priest who sexually assaulted a sleeping woman aboard a cross-country flight to Los Angeles was sentenced Monday to six months in federal prison.
Marcelo De Jesumaria, 46, who previously served in the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Bernardino, was convicted in May of abusive sexual contact on the US Airways flight from Philadelphia last summer, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. De Jesumaria, who currently lives in the high desert community of Valyermo, was also sentenced six months in home confinement.
De Jesumaria was on a US Airways flight out of Philadelphia on Aug. 17, 2014 when he moved to the last row of the aircraft after asking a flight attendant if he could “sit next to his wife, according to the evidence presented at trial. He took the middle seat, between a man in the window seat and a woman in the aisle seat.
According to court papers, a female passenger, identified only as “BD,” woke up to find the priest’s hand on the top of her left leg near her groin, and then felt him wrap his arm around her body and grab her breast, keeping a tight grip on her for a period of time. When his grip relaxed, she got up to bathroom and used the call button to report that De Jesumaria had been touching her inappropriately.
De Jesumaria was reseated in the front of the plane between two law passengers, according to the testimony at trial, and the captain of the plane requested law enforcement to meet the plane after it landed.
FBI agents met De Jesumaria at the gate, when the plane landed, and he was indicted in Los Angeles federal court last October. De Jesumaria admitted to the FBI agents that he enjoyed “cozy flights” with women.
De Jesumaria was removed from the ministry last November when the allegations against him surfaced.
Steven Cron argued that De Jesumaria did not deserve prison, saying he’s in therapy and “doesn’t need time in custody to recognize the seriousness of his actions.”
“As a result of his actions … Jesumaria has lost his career, his position of esteem in the community, and he will have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life,” Cron wrote in court records. “He acknowledged that his behavior was wrong.”
Cron said his client repeatedly offered to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge in the case, but prosecutors unfairly rejected him in favor of a felony conviction.
Prosecutors say De Jesumaria’s trial testimony showed the priest provided several bizarre explanations for his conduct and blamed the victim. In the papers filed by prosecutors, De Jesumaria testified that he considered his touching of the victim was “consensual because she did not reject his touches and he interpreted her silence, because she was asleep, as ‘coyness.’”
At Monday’s sentencing hearing, the victims described the “fear, frustration and anxiety” she has suffered, and is reminded of it every day in part because she must regularly travel on airplanes for her job.
In a statement Monday, the diocese said it considers Jesumaria’s actions “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.”
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