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Topics In the News
Dharun Ravi Found Guilty in Rutgers Spycam Case
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 03/16/12
Last updated on: 05/20/12
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Dharun Ravi as he is found guilty.

On March 16, after a two-week trial and 12 hours of deliberation spread over three days, a jury returned verdicts of guilty on most of the counts against Dharun Ravi in the Rutgers spycam incident that may have precipitated the suicide of Tyler Clementi.

The jury found that Ravi, a former Rutgers University student, was motivated by anti-gay bias when he invaded the privacy of Clementi, with whom he shared a Rutgers dormitory room, by using a webcam to spy on Clementi's sexual encounter with another man.

Ravi was found guilty of 24 of the 35 separate charges on 15 counts with which he was charged. Most of the not guilty verdicts applied to Clementi's companion, identified only as "M.B."

Ravi, 20, of Plainsboro, New Jersey, was convicted of the most serious counts of bias intimidation. According to Karen Sudol's report at NorthJersey.com, the conviction on these counts means that he will almost certainly face jail time of between five and ten years. A citizen of India, where he was born, Ravi could also be deported. He will be sentenced May 21.

The conviction is undoubtedly particularly bitter for Ravi and his family since late last year he rejected a plea deal that would have allowed him to avoid jail time in lieu of probation and community service. Under the plea deal, prosecutors would have assisted him if immigration officials pursued deportation.

The case garnered international attention because of Clementi's suicide. The shy 18-year-old freshman and gifted musician died on September 22, 2010 as the result of jumping from the George Washington Bridge, apparently distraught over the humiliation he felt as the result of Ravi's viewing--and inviting others to view--via webcam his sexual encounter with an older man.

The death spotlighted the problems of anti-gay bullying and teen suicide and prompted a national conversation about them.

The case is the first one in which bias intimidation charges linked to invasion of privacy were brought against a defendant. Legal experts have predicted that the prosecution could affect the way young adults interact online and how schools police Internet use.

The jury of seven women and five men were convinced by First Assistant Middlesex County Prosecutor Julia McClure's assertion that Ravi invaded the privacy of Clementi and his male companion, with the intent to intimidate Clementi because he was gay.

In doing so, they rejected attorney Steven Altman's argument that Ravi was acting like a typical 18-year-old "kid" and did not know how to deal with seeing two men kissing. Altman presented Ravi as a young man just out of high school whose actions may have been stupid but not criminal. He also said that Ravi used the webcam because he was worried that the older, shabby-looking M.B. might steal his iPad.

Although witnesses, including Rutgers students testifying for the state, said that Ravi never expressed any anti-gay sentiments, other evidence surfaced that Ravi was upset at having a gay roommate and frequently used anti-gay slurs.

The crimes for which Ravi was convicted began on September 19, 2010 when he set up his webcam and activated it from his friend Molly Wei's room across the hall after learning that Clementi wanted to use their room for a private meeting.

The two watched Clementi and M.B. kissing before shutting down Wei's laptop. But within minutes, Ravi was tweeting about what he saw: "Roommate asked for the room til midnight. I went into molly's room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay." He and Wei also announced what they saw to friends in the dorm and in instant messages.

Wei, who was also charged with invasion of privacy, accepted a plea deal that required her to testify against Ravi and serve probation.

Two days later, Clementi again asked to use the room. Knowing that Clementi and M.B. planned to meet again, Ravi alerted his Twitter followers to video chat him later that night in order to see Clementi's gay encounter for themselves. "Yes, it's happening again," he tweeted.

With the help of two friends, Ravi made certain his webcam was working and trained on Clementi's bed. In discussing his plan in a text to a high school friend, he wrote "Keep the gays away."

However, Clementi saw Ravi's tweets and unplugged Ravi's computer to prevent any live-streamed images from being viewed. He also requested a room change, telling the dormitory's Resident Assistant in an e-mail that he no longer felt comfortable living with someone who would invade his privacy.

The next day, Clementi posted on his Facebook page, "Jumping from the gw bridge, sorry."

After Ravi learned of Clementi's suicide, he attempted to cover up his actions. He deleted his two tweets and wrote a new one in which he told followers not to dare video chat him in order to watch Clementi's encounter; erased text messages between him and two high school friends including Wei, in which he asked her what she told authorities while at the police department; and lied to authorities when speaking with them.

More information on Clementi and Ravi may be found in Ian Parker's New Yorker profile, "The Story of a Suicide".

Parker provides a great deal of information about Clementi and Ravi and their families. However, he tends to minimize a number of aspects of the case, including the potential affect on Clementi of his parents' membership in an Evangelical Christian church and the significance of Ravi's use of anti-gay slurs. Most problematically, he seems to regard Ravi as much of a victim of the tragedy as Clementi.

My own view is that Ravi's arrogant refusal to accept responsibility for his actions is what justifies prison time in this case. Had he accepted the generous plea deal he was offered, he would not be facing prison and the possibility of deportation.

He undoubtedly thought that at trial he could minimize the significance of his spying on and tormenting his roommate. He may even have thought that what he did was not serious, that it was, as his lawyer argued, just a prank. However, the country may have now reached a consensus, at least in some states, that humiliating people because of their sexuality is no longer acceptable.

No one should take pleasure in the fact that Ravi's life will be so negatively affected by his callous and thoughtless actions. On the other hand, his refusal to acknowledge how his actions contributed to the suicide of an equally promising young man makes it very difficult to feel sympathy for him.

We can hope that the family of Tyler Clementi finds some comfort in the justice that this conviction represents and that the prosecution of this case may cause others to think before they bully and otherwise humiliate others.

In the video below, Tyler Clementi's brother, James, speaks of the enduring pain felt by Clementi's family.

The video below shows the verdict as it was handed down on March 16, 2012.

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