Less than a week after a New Jersey jury found him guilty of invasion of privacy and bias intimidation, former Rutgers University student Dharun Ravi , 20, broke his silence about the death of his roommate Tyler Clementi, on Thursday (March 22).
Speaking in an exclusive sit-down interview with the New Jersey Star-Ledger, Ravi said his entire life has changed since Clementi jumped to his death two years ago following the revelation that roommate Ravi had spied on his date with a man in their dorm room.
“I’m not the same person I was two years ago,” Ravi said of the immature teenager he once was, admitting he did some “stupid” things and was insensitive to Clementi’s feelings. “I don’t even recognize the person I was two years ago … but I wasn’t biased,” he added. “I didn’t act out of hate and I wasn’t uncomfortable with Tyler being gay.”
Ravi faced 15 counts of invasion of privacy, bias intimidation, tampering with evidence and a witness and hindering apprehension in the case. He was convicted on parts of all 15 counts and is facing up to 10 years in jail and possible deportation in the wake of the verdict.
The Star-Ledger described Ravi’s face as “drawn and thin” and his eyes as “perpetually sad” due to stress from the trial. Interviewed in his parent’s New Jersey living room, Ravi said that rather than feeling defeated, the verdict, “actually made me feel energized. … We [family, friends and attorneys] will keep going.”
The jury concluded that Ravi had not intended to intimidate Clementi on the first night that he secretly switched on a webcam to watch his roommate’s actions. But they felt that Clementi had reason to believe that he was targeted because he was gay (based in part on language used in some of Ravi’s text messages to others), and on one count, the jury found that Ravi knew Clementi, 18, would feel intimidated by his actions. The incident brought the issue of cyberbullying to national attention.
Ravi, who is scheduled to be sentenced on May 21, could have avoided a jail term if he had not turned down a plea deal that would have required community service and an admission of guilt on charges of bias intimidation.
“I’m never going to regret not taking the plea,” Ravi said. “If I took the plea, I would have had to testify that I did what I did to intimidate Tyler and that would be a lie. I won’t ever get up there and tell the world I hated Tyler because he was gay, or tell the world I was trying to hurt or intimidate him because it’s not true.”
Though the story paints Ravi’s upbringing as multicultural and diverse, he said he did not have much experience with gays before leaving home for Rutgers. “One of my friends had a gay roommate and I met a gay kid I liked a lot at orientation,” he said. “They were cool. It was no big deal. Now there’s a verdict out there that says I hate gays. The jury has decided they know what is going on in my mind; they can tell you what you think.”
Hoping to make new friends at school, Ravi opted out of rooming with a high school friend and said he had no problem with Clementi, other than the fact that his roomie was reserved. “Before I went to school, I thought my roommate would be my best friend and we would hang out all the time,” he said. “I thought I could expand my circle of friends. But [Tyler] wasn’t like that. He was very quiet and every conversation we had just hit a dead end.”
When police first came to his room after Clementi was reported missing, Ravi said he suspected it had something to do with the 30-year-old man his roommate had met on a gay dating site; that man, known only as “M.B.” during the trial, is the one who Ravi recorded meeting up with Clementi.
“I thought it was something sinister, that maybe he got mixed up with the wrong guy,” Ravi said of the police’s line of questioning about Clementi’s disappearance. “I told one of my friends, ‘I wish I recorded [the first incident, on Sept. 19] so I would have an image of the guy [M.B.] to give to the police.”
Saying he intended the webcasting of the meet-up as a joke, Ravi said he was just trying to show off for his friends and didn’t take into account the ramifications of his actions. “I never really thought about what it would mean to Tyler,” he said. “I know that’s wrong, but that’s the truth.” He said he immediately felt bad about his actions and pointed the camera away from the bed during Clementi’s second meet-up with M.B. in the dorm room.
“I didn’t want to upset him,” Ravi said about what was described as a second wave or remorse about his actions. “I never thought he would find out. I figured I would tell him later and we would laugh about it.”
But when Clementi found out, he immediately asked for a room change and Ravi said he wanted to talk him out of it, but never got a chance. “One of the most frustrating parts is that he never got my apology,” Ravi said, adding that he was “very sorry” about Clementi’s suicide. “I texted an apology and when he didn’t answer, I emailed him. I told him I didn’t want him to feel pressure to have to move and that we could work things out.”
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