A jury found former Rutgers University student Dharun Ravi guilty of hate crimes and invasion of privacy on Friday (March 16), bringing to an end a case that helped spark a national debate on cyberbullying.
Ravi was accused of setting up a webcam to spy on his roommate, Tyler Clementi , as Clementi engaged in a consensual sexual encounter with another man in the pair’s Rutgers dorm room.
Clementi leaped to his death from the George Washington Bridge in New York three days after learning that Ravi viewed the encounter and, according to testimony, invited others to watch and discuss what he saw online. According to The New York Times, in addition to the hate crimes, the jury found Ravi guilty of tampering with evidence and witnesses because of his efforts to change Twitter and text messages in which he had encouraged others to watch the webcam footage.
Ravi, 20, faced 15 counts of invasion of privacy, bias intimidation, tampering with evidence and a witness and hindering apprehension. The jury concluded that Ravi had not intended to intimidate Clementi on the first night that he secretly switched on the webcam to watch his roommate’s actions. But they concluded that Clementi had reason to believe that he was targeted because he was gay (based on the language in some of the texts), and on one count, the jury found that Ravi knew Clementi, 18, would feel intimidated by his actions.
Because he was found guilty on at least one question of whether his actions rose to the level of bias discrimination, Ravi could face the maximum penalty of up to 10 years in jail and deportation to his native India.
“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, which lasted three weeks and concluded with two days of deliberation by the jury. Later in the trial, she told the jury that Ravi “was bothered by Tyler Clementi’s sexual orientation.”
In a rare instance, almost none of the facts in the case were in dispute, as Ravi’s lawyers agreed that their client had set up the webcam and then gone to a friend’s room and viewed Clementi kissing the unidentified man. They also did not deny that Ravi sent Twitter and text messages to others describing what he’d seen and urging them to watch a second viewing.
Ravi’s attorneys painted their client as an immature college student who acted thoughtlessly and made a mistake, but denied that he’d been spurred by homophobia. “He hasn’t lived long enough to have any experience with homosexuality or gays,” attorney Steven Altman said during closing arguments. “He doesn’t know anything about it. He just graduated high school.”
Clementi’s suicide set off a national debate about bullying and intimidation of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth the resulted in public messages of support from everyone from openly gay talk show host Ellen DeGeneres
to singer Ciara, “America’s Next Top Model” personality Jay Manuel, President Obama, “One Tree Hill” actress Sophia Bush and
“Harry Potter” star Daniel Radcliffe .
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