Photo via Pixabay
Photo via Pixabay

A Catholic priest who sexually molested a sleeping woman aboard a cross-country flight to Los Angeles was sentenced Monday to a one- year term — to be split between federal prison and home confinement.

Marcelo De Jesumaria, 46, formerly of Lake Arrowhead and who currently lives in the high desert community of Valyermo, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Beverly Reid O’Connell.

The judge, who ordered the defendant to register as a sex offender, noted the “devastatingly negative impact” the crime had on the victim.

De Jesumaria, who previously served in the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Bernardino, was found guilty in May by a Los Angeles federal jury of abusive sexual contact, a federal felony offense that carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison.

The evidence at trial showed that De Jesumaria was on a US 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 — identified in court papers only as “BD” — 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, evidence showed.

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, according to court papers.

The victim Monday described the “fear, frustration and anxiety” that the crime caused, and told the judge she is reminded of the ordeal every day, in part because she must regularly travel on airplanes for her job.

In pre-sentencing documents, 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 that touching the victim was “consensual because she did not reject his touches and he interpreted her silence, because she was asleep, as “coyness.”

De Jesumaria was removed from the ministry last November when the allegations against him surfaced.

—City News Service

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