An Indian man living in the U.S. on a work visa was sentenced to nine years in prison Thursday for sexually assaulting a sleeping woman during an overnight flight to Detroit. Prabhu Ramamoorthy was in a middle seat sitting next to the victim, while his wife was in an aisle seat on a Spirit Airlines flight from Las Vegas last January.
The 23-year-old victim, a model, said he unzipped her pants, unbuttoned her shirt and molested her with his hands. She watched the hearing from the first row with her boyfriend and a support dog.
At the trial, she testified that she woke up during the flight and "saw his hands inside me." She said she felt "petrified, frozen."
"Everyone has the right to be secure and safe when they travel on airplanes. ... We appreciate the victim in this case for her courage to speak out," said U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider.
U.S. District Judge Terrence Berg said he hoped the sentence would be "grave enough" to deter others from committing similar crimes. Nationwide, 39 sex assaults were reported on domestic flights in fiscal year 2018, according to the FBI. That's down from a year earlier, when 63 assaults were reported. Investigators, however, believe many more assaults are unreported.
Ramamoorthy, 35, has lived in suburban Detroit since arriving in the U.S. on a work visa in 2015. He will be deported to India after serving his sentence.
"He has shown no remorse or concern for the victim," Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Jawad told the judge, according to the Detroit Free Press.
Jawad wrote in her sentencing memo that the victim was so traumatized by what happened that she wasn't able to work afterward, according to the paper.
"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."
Defense attorney James Amberg asked for a prison sentence of less than 10 years. He said the conviction will bring "severe and lifelong consequences" to Ramamoorthy and his wife when they return to southern India. "His life is effectively over," Amberg told Berg.