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Case Number: 1:20-cr-00090-MR-WCM
Judge: Martin Reidinger
Court: United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina (Buncombe County)
Plaintiff's Attorney: United States District Attorney’s Office, Asheville, North Carolina
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Description: Asheville, North Carolina sexual assault and batter on an airplane criminal defense lawyer represented defendant charged with abusive sexual contact aboard an airplane.
Siva K. Durbesula, 28, of India, was charged with abusive sexual contact aboard an airplane.
“Every person deserves to feel safe when they travel, and that someone would violate that safety through sexual assault is reprehensible. Those who engage in this type of behavior will be prosecuted,” said U.S. Attorney McCoy. “I applaud the courage of the witnesses in the case to step forward. I also appreciate the great work by U.S. Attorney Murray and his team to ensure the defendant’s conviction.”
According to filed court documents, witness testimony, and evidence presented at trial, Durbesula was a passenger aboard Spirit Airlines Flight NK843 from Chicago O’Hare to Myrtle Beach International Airport on June 23, 2019, when he sexually assaulted the 22-year-old woman seated next to him. Specifically, the victim testified that Durbesula repeatedly pulled her toward him and rubbed her breast. After the flight crew separated Durbesula from his victim, he asked to return to his former seat so he could speak to her again. Witnesses to the events aboard the airplane included the lead flight attendant and an unaccompanied minor sitting next to the victim.
The jury also heard from a previous victim of Durbesula. She testified that on March 21, 2019, aboard a subway train in New York City, Durbesula sat immediately next to her although there were empty seats throughout the train car. The previous victim, who was pregnant at the time, testified that shortly after he sat down, Durbesula began groping her breast. She was able to record cell phone video of Durbesula exiting the train after the assault, which was admitted at trial.
The case was a particularly challenging logistical feat, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Originally indicted in the District of South Carolina, the case was transferred to the Western District of North Carolina for trial after Durbesula agreed that the plane travelled over North Carolina and venue was appropriate in that state. Witnesses in the case came from North Carolina, South Carolina, Wisconsin, Illinois, Florida, and Arkansas to testify.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Don Gast, of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of North Carolina in Asheville, and Derek A. Shoemake, of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of South Carolina in Florence, are prosecuting the case. Victim-Witness Coordinators Lynne Crout, with the Western District of North Carolina, and Clarissa Whaley, with the District of South Carolina, provided assistance for the two victims and witnesses across six states.
18:2244(b) and 49:46506(a) ABUSIVE SEXUAL CONTACT WITHOUT PERMISSION with forfeiture allegations
Outcome: Defendant was found guilty.