August 24, 2015

Catholic Priest Who Sexually Assaulted Female Passenger on Cross-Country Flight Sentenced to Federal Prison

LOS ANGELES—A Catholic priest who touched a woman’s breast, inner thigh and groin on an overnight cross-country airplane flight was sentenced today to one year—a term that will include six months in federal prison and six months of home confinement.

Marcelo De Jesumaria, 46, formerly of Lake Arrowhead and who currently resides in the high desert community of Valyermo, was sentenced this morning by United States District Judge Beverly Reid O’Connell.

Judge O’Connell, who also ordered the defendant to register as a sex offender, noted the “devastatingly negative impact” the crime had on the victim.

De Jesumaria was found guilty in May by a federal jury of abusive sexual contact, a federal felony offense that carries a statutory maximum sentence of two years in prison.

The evidence at trial showed that De Jesumaria was on a U.S. Airways flight from Philadelphia to Los Angeles on August 17, 2014 when he moved to the last row of the aircraft after asking a flight attendant if could “sit next to his wife.” De Jesumaria took the middle seat, between a male in the window seat and the victim in the aisle seat. The victim slept through much of the flight, but she was awakened when she felt De Jesumaria’s hand on the top of her left leg near her groin, and then she felt him wrap his arm around her body and grab her breast. For a period of time, De Jesumaria had a tight grip on the woman, but when the grip relaxed, she got up and went to the bathroom. The victim used a call button to summon a flight attendant and reported that De Jesumaria had been touching her inappropriately.

The flight crew reseated De Jesumaria in the front of the plane in a seat between two male passengers, according to the testimony at trial. The captain of the airplane requested law enforcement meet the plane after it landed at Los Angeles International Airport. FBI agents subsequently interviewed De Jesumaria, who admitted that he enjoyed “cozy flights” with women.

The victim spoke at today’s sentencing hearing and described the “fear, frustration and anxiety” that the crime has caused. She said she is reminded of the “ordeal” every day, in part because she must regularly travel on airplanes for her job.

In papers filed in relation to today’s sentencing, prosecutors wrote that De Jesumaria’s “testimony at trial provided numerous bizarre explanations for his conduct and blamed the victim.” They wrote that 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.’”

The case against De Jesumaria was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.