UPDATE: A federal judge in Newark has upheld a jury’s conviction of a Turkish national who lives in North Bergen on charges of molesting a woman sleeping next to him on a flight from Phoenix to Newark.
Federal prosecutors sufficiently proved their case that Bawer Aksal, 49, molested the 50-year-old woman, U.S. District Judge Jose L. Linares said in a 14-page opinion on file in federal court.
Linares could send Aksal to federal prison for life at a Jan. 14 sentencing.
The nine men and three woman on the jury deliberated for roughly seven hours over two days before convicting Aksal of sexual abuse and abusive sexual contact in July.
Aksal, an ethnic Kurd who runs a service company that includes the St. Regis Hotel in New York and El Mexicano restaurant in Paterson among its affiliations, claimed the testimony contradicted portions of the woman’s account — and what he called common sense.
However, Linares wrote that while the testimony of three passenger, the flight attendants and the victim might not match up exactly, “the overall testimony was consistent with respect to the allegations stated in the [indictment].
“Certainly, these minor discrepancies — to the extent they are even true discrepancies — do not rise to the level of causing this court to believe that no reasonable jury could have reached a verdict of guilty,” the judge wrote.
At the request of Assistant US Attorney Danielle Alfonso Walsman, who called Aksal a “substantial risk of flight,” Linares ordered him held until sentencing after the verdict.
“We’re all profoundly disappointed, but we accept what the jurors have said,” defense attorney Robert DeGroot said at the time.
Aksal insisted during the trial what happened aboard United Airlines Flight 306 last Aug. 20 was consensual sex.
The woman testified, however, that she awoke to find Aksal using his finger to penetrate her.