Published Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013 | 4:19 p.m.
Updated Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013 | 4:40 p.m.
CHICAGO — A judge sentenced a business traveler from suburban Chicago to nine months in prison today for groping a passenger in flight while she slept in a seat next to him. The victim told reporters later she wished the punishment could have been harsher.
The woman and her husband were returning to Chicago after celebrating their 34th anniversary in Las Vegas two years ago when Srinivasa Erramilli, now 46, sat between the couple and later began touching her, the woman testified at trial last year.
As she imposed the Aurora man's sentence, which included banning him from commercial air travel for a year after his release, U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow praised the victim for pressing charges.
"She was standing up for herself and other women who were subject to this kind of thing," Lefkow told the Chicago courtroom.
Minutes earlier, the victim herself read a brief statement in court, saying she still feels traumatized memories of the incident. Later, she told reporters she wished a harsher sentence had been available. Guidelines called for a maximum sentence of 16 months.
"I would have chopped off his hands," she said.
Erramilli, a software company owner, showed little emotion as the sentence was imposed or when his victim spoke. He declined to make a statement before sentencing.
Defense attorney Edward Genson decried his client's behavior on the plane, but said he was an otherwise good, kind-hearted man.
"We have two Mr. Erramillis," he said. "Mr. Erramilli is not just the man on the plane that day."
The victim testified she chose a window seat on the June 14, 2011, Southwest Airlines flight so she could sleep, while her husband sat by an aisle for easy restroom access. Erramilli boarded last and was given the only seat left — between the couple.
She said she awoke when Erramilli touched her thigh a third and final time. "Get your hands off of me!" other passengers heard her yell. She also started hitting Erramilli and called him "a pig."
The defense argued at trial the contact was inadvertent.
Defense lawyers had asked for probation, saying imprisonment would doom his firm, which employs 13. Humiliation from media coverage had been its own punishment, they said, and it extended to his wife and two young daughters.
"The Internet Age makes that embarrassment relatively permanent," one defense filing said.
But Lefkow noted Erramilli was convicted in 2002 and given probation after grabbing a woman's breast on a Detroit-bound flight. In 2000, he received two years' probation for a similar incident.
That history argued against leniency, she said.
"One of our fundamental human rights is bodily integrity," the judge told Erramilla as he stood before her, his hands folded. "What you did was a degradation of that physical integrity."