A jury in New Jersey has found Rutgers student Dharun Ravi guilty of a hate crime against his gay roommate, Tyler Clementi, for using a web cam to spy on Clementi’s intimate encounters with another man. The jury also found Ravi guilty of a number of other charges, including invasion of privacy and witness tampering. The jury found Ravi not guilty in relation to most charges as they affected Clementi’s male date, identified in court only as “M.B.”
Ravi faces up to 10 years in prison for the convictions. The guilty charges could also result in Ravi, who is on a student visa to study here, being deported.
During the two-week trial, Ravi’s chief attorney, Steve Altman, repeatedly characterized Ravi’s actions with the web cam as the sort of foolish prank one should expect from an 18-year-old college student.
Ravi and Clementi were both in their first year at Rutgers University in September 2010 when Ravi set up his computer web cam to capture images of Clementi having intimate relations with M.B.
Middlesex County Prosecutor Julie McClure portrayed Ravi as a person who expressed to his friends discomfort with having a gay roommate and who deliberately set up his web cam to invade Clementi’s privacy and ridicule his being gay. She said Ravi’s preoccupation with Clementi’s sexual orientation “drove his escalating and deliberative acts.”
McClure’s position was weakened by Judge Glenn Berman who discouraged any mention during the trial that Clementi had jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge in the early morning hours of September 23 after discovering Ravi’s web cam spying and Twitter posts about Clementi’s relationship. He also struck from evidence the details of Clementi’s communications to university officials in which he asked for a room change because of Ravi’s spy cam activity.
Ravi did not take the witness stand in his own defense during the trial in Middlesex County Courthouse in New Brunswick, New Jersey. But Altman played a videotape of Ravi being questioned by detectives at the police station on September 23, while Clementi was still missing.
During that interrogation, Ravi stated, “Yes, I did” in response to a question about whether he violated Clementi’s privacy. But he added that he didn’t do so deliberately.
Ravi’s attorneys also introduced into evidence a long text message Ravi wrote to Clementi, saying that his turning the web camera on while Clementi had a date in the room had been an accident. The email said he had turned the camera on only to show his friend “how I set up my computer so I can access it from anywhere.” Ravi’s email said he turned the camera off as soon as he saw Clementi and his male date but felt “uncomfortable and guilty” about it and “told people what occurred so they could give me advice.”
Ravi’s email said the reason he turned the camera on a second time Clementi had his date in the room was because “I wanted to make sure what happened” the first time “wouldn’t happen again.”
Ravi’s text message to Clementi was sent at 8:46 p.m. on September 22, four minutes after Clementi posted a message on his own Facebook page saying, “Jumping off the gw bridge sorry.”
It is not known whether Clementi saw Ravi’s text that night, but records of Clementi’s own computer use, introduced into evidence, indicated that Clementi viewed Ravi’s Twitter posts about him numerous times and saved screenshots of them.
Ravi’s text message to Clementi also seemed to contradict him. It claimed he posted something on Twitter to let his friends know “not to video chat me” while Clementi was in the room with his date on the second occasion. But the Twitter post to friends stated, “I dare you to video chat with me” during Clementi’s date.
The prosecution also introduced evidence that Ravi deleted more than 80 text messages from his own phone as investigators were preparing to interview him.
The hate crime law in New Jersey, entitled “bias intimidation,” states that a person is guilty of “the crime of bias intimidation if he commits, attempts to commit, conspires with another to commit, or threatens the immediate commission of an offense…(1) with a purpose to intimidate an individual or group of individuals because of race, color, religion, gender, handicap, sexual orientation, or ethnicity; or (2) knowing that the conduct constituting the offense would cause an individual or group of individuals to be intimidated because of [the minority status] or (3) under circumstances that caused any victim of the underlying offense to be intimidated and the victim, considering the manner in which the offense was committed, reasonably believed either that (a) the offense was committed with a purpose to intimidate the victim or any person or entity in whose welfare the victim is interested because of [his minority status] or (b) the victim or the victim’s property was selected to be the target of the offense because of the victim’s [minority status].