NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — A northern New Jersey man on trial for sexually abusing a woman on a cross-country flight told authorities that the woman "was coming on" to him and placed his hands on her breasts and inside her panties in the darkened cabin.
Bawer Aksal didn't take the witness stand Tuesday in federal court, but jurors heard excerpts from an FBI agent's notes of an interview he gave hours after the alleged incident on a Phoenix-to-Newark United flight last August.
The statement flatly contradicted the woman's account. She testified Monday she woke up to find Aksal molesting her and angrily pushed him away before leaving the row and notifying the flight crew.
A United flight attendant testified Tuesday that the woman "had tears in her eyes and she was shaking" when she spoke to her in the back of the plane.
The woman is using an alias during the trial because of the nature of the charges.
Aksal's trial began last week. The Turkish-born U.S. citizen is charged with sexual abuse and abusive sexual contact.
According to Aksal's statement, to two FBI agents, the woman showed an interest in him as soon as she sat down, telling him, "You are a very handsome guy." Later, he told the agents, the woman was "coming on to me" and "rubbing herself against me," forcing him to push her away.
Jurors heard a different version on Monday during cross-examination of the woman when they were told that she had sent a text message to a friend before takeoff complaining that "(expletive) guy's hairy arm is touching me."
FBI Agent Mary Anne Flippo testified Tuesday that Aksal went on to describe how the woman grabbed his hand and "put it on her lap," then down her shorts and "pressed my fingers inside her very hard." He also told the agents the woman "put her breasts in my hands" and "rubbed her naked ass on me."
Prosecutors called three other witnesses Tuesday who were sitting in the rows behind or in front of Aksal and the woman. One man sitting directly in front of the woman in a window seat testified he was jolted at one point by what felt like someone hitting a blocking sled on a football field. That appeared to buttress the woman's account that she awoke with a start and lashed out.
Defense attorney Robert DeGroot has referred several times to a text message sent to an FBI agent that said the woman would testify if the FBI interceded in a local criminal case involving her son. The woman testified Monday that her son sent the text. When asked about the incident Tuesday, Flippo testified the woman didn't mention the FBI getting involved in the son's case during a face-to-face meeting.
DNA swabs were taken from Aksal after his arrest, and jurors are expected to hear from the prosecution's DNA expert on Wednesday before the prosecution rests. DeGroot is expected to call a different flight attendant to testify, but it wasn't clear Tuesday whether Aksal would take the stand.
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