Friday, March 16, 2012

Rutgers University

Guilty verdict in Rutgers webcam spying case

(CNN) -- Dharun Ravi, a former Rutgers University student accused of spying on and intimidating his gay roommate, was found guilty Friday on charges of invasion of privacy and bias intimidation.

The jury found Ravi not guilty on several questions within the ruling, but because he was found guilty on at least one question of whether his actions constituted bias discrimination he could now face the maximum penalty: Up to 10 years in jail and deportation to his native India.

Ravi, 20, was also found guilty of witness tampering, hindering apprehension and tampering of physical evidence.

His roommate, Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old freshman, killed himself in September 2010 by jumping off the George Washington Bridge, which spans the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey, after learning that Ravi had secretly spied on his sexual encounter with another man.

Clementi's death stirred discussion about bullying, with President Barack Obama releasing a videotaped message less than a month later condemning it. A few months later, New Jersey legislators enacted stricter laws to better protect against bullying in schools.

The most serious charges in the Rutgers case centered on whether Ravi's actions had constituted bias intimidation, meaning that he was motivated to inspire fear in the Ridgewood, New Jersey, native because of his sexual orientation. Those charges carry jail time of up to 10 years and possible deportation back to his native India.

Prosecutors have said that Ravi tried to embarrass Clementi because he was gay.

"These acts were purposeful, they were intentional, and they were planned," prosecutor Julia L. McClure told the jury on the first day of the trial. Ravi "was bothered by Tyler Clementi's sexual orientation," she later said more bluntly.

Ravi's attorneys have argued that their client acted thoughtlessly, portraying him as an immature college student who made a mistake, and that his actions were not based on homophobia.

"He hasn't lived long enough to have any experience with homosexuality or gays," said attorney Steven Altman in closing arguments earlier this week. "He doesn't know anything about it. He just graduated high school."

Ravi and fellow student Molly Wei -- who admitted joining Ravi to watch the surreptitious webcam encounter, which others were also alerted to via social media -- were charged in the wake of Clementi's suicide. They were not, however, charged directly with his death.

Facing two counts of invasion of privacy, Wei reached a plea deal in May 2011 that required her to testify against her friend and former high school classmate, as well as to complete a three-year program on cyberbullying and do 300 hours of community service.

Ravi turned down a plea deal offered by Middlesex County prosecutors that would have allowed him to avoid jail time in exchange for undergoing counseling, doing 600 hours of community service and disposing of any information that could identify the man who appeared in the web video with Clementi.

Prosecutors also offered to help Ravi avoid deportation, though they said they could not guarantee it. Ravi, who had been studying on a visa at the New Jersey university, did not testify on his own behalf.

During the prosecution's phase of the trial, the man whom Clementi was intimate with, identified only as "M.B.," told jurors that he had noticed a web camera aimed directly at Clementi's bed.

The 32-year-old man testified that he first met Clementi on an Internet social networking site for gay men and that they eventually met three times in the student's dorm room. The two conversed online, exchanged text messages and later had sex, he said.

Wei testified that she watched a sexual liaison involving M.B. and Clementi after Ravi had secretly set up the webcam in his and Clementi's dormitory room.

Ravi's lawyer, Altman, has argued that his client had initially switched on the webcam to monitor his personal items because he did not trust his roommate's visitor.

In Twitter messages from that day, Ravi wrote that he'd gone into a friend's room, "turned on my webcam" and saw his roommate "making out with a dude."

On September 22, 2010, Clementi took a train to New York and posted a mobile status update on his Facebook page that read, "Jumping off the gw bridge sorry," before killing himself.

Ravi had apparently tried to make amends with his estranged roommate that same night, according to text messages revealed in court.

"I've known you were gay and I have no problem with it," Ravi wrote said in messages sent after he apparently learned his roommate had requested a dormitory room change.

It is not clear if Clementi ever viewed the messages.

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