An Oregon woman who molested another passenger aboard an Alaska Airlines flight last year was sentenced Monday to eight months of home detention and three years of probation.
Heidi McKinney, 27, of Banks didn’t speak in federal court during her sentencing but wrote a letter of apology to the young woman who she verbally and physically abused.
The encounter occurred on May 8, 2016, when a 19-year-old woman boarded a flight in Las Vegas to return to her home in Portland. She said a “rowdy” woman later identified as McKinney tried to take a seat in her row and inappropriately placed her hands on her chest.
McKinney, who was traveling with her sister-in-law, insisted on taking multiple photos of the 19-year-old woman despite her protestations. After the plane took off, McKinney tried to lure the 19-year-old into drinking alcohol that she had smuggled onto the plane. When the 19-year-old refused, McKinney threw the bottle onto the victim’s lap, according to prosecutors.
McKinney subjected the 19-year-old to lewd and demeaning taunts and physical touching, including licking the 19-year-old’s ear, placing her hand on the victim’s crotch several times and attempting to force the 19-year-old to touch McKinney’s breasts, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ravi Sinha wrote in a sentencing memo.
At one point, McKinney climbed on top of the victim and said she wanted to have sex, Sinha’s memo said.
As the 19-year-old pushed her off, McKinney cursed at her and called her “poor.” The victim alerted a flight crew member, who moved her away from McKinney, according to the prosecutor.
McKinney was initially charged with abusive sexual conduct. As part of a plea agreement, she pleaded guilty to assault with intent to commit a felony.
Her defense lawyer, Lisa Ludwig, suggested that McKinney has been struggling with alcohol abuse since she was a teenager and that it coincided with her own sexual abuse.
The victim sat in the front row of the courtroom gallery but was too emotional to read her prepared statements in court. As the prosecutor said it was her turn to come up and speak, she remained in her seat, shaking her head back and forth.
Instead, her grandmother walked up to the defense table on her behalf and read her remarks.
“I personally don’t feel you know how much damage you have caused me,” the victim wrote. “That day you messed with my head and took something from me that I will never get back.”
The victim wrote that she blamed herself for being too friendly to McKinney when she first boarded the plane and has suffered sleepless nights as a result of the abuse.
“What you did was not OK in any shape or form,” she wrote. But she added that she forgave McKinney, largely because she felt she needed to do so to move on with her own life, and hoped McKinney would get the help she needed.
The prosecutor and defense lawyer jointly recommended a sentence of three years of probation, with a restitution payment of $3,000. But U.S. District Judge Anna J. Brown said sentencing guidelines call for home detention and varying from that would be “quite out of line.”
“She needs to be held accountable for her crimes first,” the judge said.
McKinney’s lawyer asked that her client be allowed to leave her home to attend school, church and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and to look for employment.
McKinney completed an inpatient alcohol treatment program in June and is completing courses to obtain an associate’s degree in August, Ludwig told the court. She’s working to develop more “appropriate sober relationships with same-age peers,” Ludwig said.
McKinney has two prior convictions for driving under the influence of intoxicants in 2007 and 2015.
As conditions of her probation, McKinney can’t have guns in her home and she can’t have “anything to do with” her husband’s marijuana business, including any bookkeeping or contact with money from the business, the judge ordered.
She also can’t consume any alcohol.
“Absolute abstention from alcohol is the requirement for you,” Brown told McKinney. “You simply cannot drink.”
McKinney planned to pay the restitution in full Monday, her lawyer said.