SALT LAKE CITY – A former Utah airline pilot was sentenced Wednesday to more than two years in prison for groping a 14-year-old girl in the seat next to him during an off-duty flight.
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Michael James Pascal, 46, of Park City, appeared in federal court Wednesday in Salt Lake City. He wore a navy blue suit and had close-cropped hair.
"Whatever the sentence is, I will accept it," he told the judge, saying he hoped to be a good father during his time in prison.
On the October 2013 Delta Airlines flight, the teenager awoke from a nap and felt Pascal's hand under her, gripping her buttocks, she said, according to court documents. She elbowed him and yelled, "What the hell are you doing?" the records show.
Earlier, she said, she had pushed down the armrest between them but when she woke up, someone had pushed it upright, she said. Pascal pulled his hand out from under her, she recounted, saying, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I was asleep, I have to use the bathroom."
Pascal told investigators he fell asleep with his hands in his lap and couldn't recall where his hand was when he awoke. He said he had lifted the armrest between him and the girl because the man on his other side was taking up a lot of room.
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His attorney Rhome Zabriskie maintained that any contact was inadvertent and that Pascal was asleep.
"When he woke up, he realized he had kind of flopped over on the passenger next to him," he said when Pascal was charged in 2013.
The girl, who was flying alone on the Detroit to Salt Lake City flight, told attendants and changed seats.
She said Pascal earlier in the flight helped her retrieve a blanket from the flight crew after he saw she was on crutches. After she moved, she said, she saw Pascal looking at her in an "annoyed" manner, court documents show.
Pascal lost his job with a regional airline carrier, a Delta Airlines contractor, when he was charged in 2013. In March, a jury convicted him on two counts of abusive sexual contact related to the incident.
"He has suffered an awful lot and it will continue," Zabriskie said Wednesday. Pascal has an 18-year-old daughter of his own and maintained that he was asleep.
Delta on Wednesday deferred comment to an ExpressJet Airlines spokeswoman who said the company does not comment on previous employees. Delta last year told The Associated Press that it cooperated with investigators but had no other comment.
U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball ordered Pascal to turn himself in on Sept. 30. He is set to serve his sentence in Colorado, where he has family, and to serve 60 months of probation afterward. The order also puts him on the sex offender registry.