With his wife crying in the courtroom, a Rochester Hills, Michigan, man was sentenced to nine years in prison Thursday for sexually assaulting a sleeping woman on an airplane, sticking his hands down her pants and penetrating her genitalia while his wife sat next to him.
As prosecutors put it, Prabhu Ramamoorthy "committed one of the most brazen airplane sexual assaults ever prosecuted in this district" when he knowingly took advantage of a sleeping, intoxicated woman who could not fight back.
The 35-year-old defendant, who chose not to speak at his sentencing hearing or address the victim, will be deported to India when he gets out of prison. He will never be allowed back into the United States.
Shackled and handcuffed, Ramamoorthy held his head low and cried as he left the courtroom while his wife looked his way. The husband and wife uttered some words to one another as the victim looked on from the other side of the courtroom, where she sat quietly with a comfort dog. The victim also chose not to speak at sentencing.
"He has shown no remorse or concern for the victim," Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Jawad told the judge, noting other defendants accused of similar crimes have expressed some sort of remorse at sentencing, but not Ramamoorthy.
U.S. District Judge Terrence Berg said that he was "concerned" that the defendant offered no expression of remorse, but that he wouldn't hold it against him, noting defendants have a right to remain silent and can't be forced into saying anything.
The prosecution had asked for a 130-month sentence, almost 11 years. Berg concluded that nine years was a fitting punishment for what he described as "an extremely serious offense."
According to court records, the 22-year-old victim was sleeping in the seat next to Ramamoorthy on a nighttime Spirit Airlines flight from Las Vegas to Detroit in January when she was jolted awake by the feeling of his fingers in her vagina. Her shirt and pants were unbuttoned.
"When he realized (the victim) was awake, the defendant turned and pretended to sleep on his wife's shoulder while his wife stared at (the victim)," Jawad wrote in a sentencing memo.
The victim sat paralyzed in disbelief, and texted her boyfriend.
"Oh my god. I just woke up and the guy next to me had his hands down my pants and in my vagina ... Who do I call ... Do I tell a flight attendant ... Oh my god I'm gonna cry," read the texts, which were shown to the jury at trial. She also texted that a woman with the man "keeps looking at me."
The victim got up and alerted the flight attendants about what happened. They moved her to the back galley and eventually to a different seat. Police officers met the plane when it landed.
Ramamoorthy told investigators that he was sleeping and the victim was sleeping on him, and he wasn't sure where he kept his hand. He denied touching her intentionally.
Later, Ramamoorthy admitted to FBI agents that he put his fingers in her pants and "might" have unhooked her bra.
A jury deliberated for 3½ hours at the end of a five-day trial in U.S. District Court before finding Ramamoorthy guilty of sexually abusing the woman.
In pleading for leniency, Ramamoorthy's lawyer, James Amberg, argued that his client — a college-educated computer specialist who moved to the U.S. in 2015 — lived a clean and productive life before this incident. He had no criminal record in the U.S. or India.
Amberg also said that his client had already been assaulted in prison since his arrest months ago, and that he faces a lifetime of shunning when he returns to India.
"He will suffer long after this sentence is done," Amberg said.
Prosecutors said in court filings that midair sexual assaults are on the rise, with FBI statistics showing a 66-percent increase from 2014 to 2017.
"That is in part due to increasingly 'cramped, confined spaces; alcohol and drugs; fewer flight attendants; and dark cabins on night flights' — factors that 'likely embolden offenders,' " Jawad wrote.
Ramamoorthy grew up in India. He earned a bachelor's degree and came to the U.S. on a work visa. He plans to work as a software technician or obtain a master's degree when he returns to India, according to the prosecution.
"Individuals who come to America and commit sexual assaults should not simply be permitted to return to their home countries without fair punishment," Jawad wrote in urging Judge Berg to issue a 130-month prison sentence.
The victim was so traumatized by what happened that she was not able to work afterward, Jawad said.
"There are very few things than can demean a woman's sense of security and well-being more than vaginal penetration without consent," Jawad wrote. "It is the ultimate violation. Especially where, as here, the victim is already isolated, confined and cut off from communication with the outside world.
"The trauma that the defendant inflicted on (the victim) will impact her for the rest of her life."
Contact Ann Zaniewski: 313-222-6594 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @AnnZaniewski.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Sexual assault on Spirit flight lands man in prison for 9 years