Indian-origin man who sexually assaulted woman on US flight gets 9-year jail term

Prabhu Ramamurthy sexually assaulted a woman on a Spirit Airlines flight in January 2018.

35-year-old Prabhu Ramamurthy, an Indian techie hailing from Tamil Nadu, was sentenced to nine years in prison by a court in the United States after he was found guilty of sexually assaulting a woman passenger who was seated next to him on a flight.

Prabhu went to the USA on an H-1B visa in 2015. Prabhu and his wife were returning to Detroit after a trip to the Grand Canyon, and were on a Spirit Airlines flight from Las Vegas to Detroit on January 3. He sat in the middle seat between a 22-year-old woman, Celia* who was in the window seat and his wife, who was in the aisle seat. When Celia woke up, she found her shirt and pants unbuttoned, and Prabhu’s hands inside her pants.

Prabhu apparently stopped touching her when she awoke and opened her eyes at around 5.30 am, which was 40 minutes before the plane was to land in Detroit. The distraught and shocked woman then approached the flight attendants in tears and informed them about the sexual assault.

Prabhu also gave conflicting testimonies about what happened. Prabhu initially said that he did not know where he had placed his hands in his sleep. He later reportedly changed his statement and said that he may have unclasped the victim’s bra while she was asleep and placed his hands over her breasts.

He had been found guilty by a jury in August, and was sentenced on Thursday. According to the Detroit Free Press, the prosecutors said that Prabhu “committed one of the most brazen airplane sexual assaults ever prosecuted in this district”.

Prosecutors had reportedly asked for 11 years, but he has been sentenced to nine years in prison. The Associated Press reported that that the judge who gave him the nine-year sentenced hoped it would be “grave enough” to deter other people, and called it an “an extremely serious offence”.

Once Prabhu completes his term, he will be deported to India.

PTI reported that after the sentencing was announced, US attorney Matthew Schneider said, “Everyone has the right to be secure and safe when they travel on airplanes. We will not tolerate the behaviour of anyone, who takes advantage of victims who are in a vulnerable position. We appreciate the victim in this case for her courage to speak out.”