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Man Convicted in Airplane-Affection Case

  Court Watch  -   POSTED: 2007/05/04 14:36

A federal court jury found a California man guilty Thursday of interference with flight crew members and attendants. The conviction stems from a confrontation with a steward last year on a cross-country flight following an amorous encounter between the defendant and his girlfriend.The felony conviction in U.S. District Court in Wilmington means Carl W. Persing must serve jail time, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Bowler said. Judge James C. Fox set an Aug. 6 sentencing date.

Persing could get up to 20 years in prison under federal sentencing guidelines, defense lawyer Deb Newton said after the verdict. The case will be appealed, she said.

A crestfallen Persing declined comment as he left the courthouse. Among the release conditions imposed by Fox prior to sentencing is that Persing only fly on commercial and private aircraft traveling to and from court appearances.

“He’s devastated,” Newton said. “By defending his right to be left alone on an airplane and by defending his civil rights, he lost his job. I admire my client. If more citizens would have stood up for their civil rights, we wouldn’t have these problems.”

Persing, 41, is a mechanic at a port in California. Similar charges against fiancee Dawn E. Sewell, 40, were dismissed Tuesday by Fox.

The couple were on a Southwest Airlines flight on Sept. 15 that was bound for Raleigh-Durham International Airport. The flight originated in Los Angeles and stopped in Phoenix. While on the ground there, the couple were observed by flight attendants “embracing, kissing and acting in a manner that made other passengers uncomfortable,” according to a criminal complaint signed by an investigating FBI agent.

Trial testimony by crew members established that Persing put his head in Sewell’s lap, and refused the request of a male flight attendant to stop. Several passengers testified they heard Persing warn the attendant to “get out of my face” and he appeared to be intoxicated.

After being refused mixed drinks on the flight, Persing told the flight attendant there would be a “serious confrontation” between the two, according to the complaint. Crew members testified Persing was verbally abusive on other occasions during the flight.

The FBI met the couple when the aircraft landed in Raleigh.

Persing never got out of his seat during the flight and put his head in Sewell’s lap to rest because he didn’t feel well, Newton said in her summation. The flight attendant, she said, was the real aggressor because he didn’t like the pair showing affection of any sort, she said Thursday.


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