Prosecution rests in Rutgers suicide trial

Dharun Ravi listens to the prosecution during his trial in Middlesex County / AP Photo

The prosecution in the trial of Dharun Ravi rested today, after over a week of of presenting witness testimony, computer files, social media records and text messages in their attempt to show that the defendant committed a hate crime.

Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi committed suicide about a year and a half earlier, by jumping off the George Washington bridge on Sept. 22, 2010. This was just days after his roommate Ravi and Molly Wei, a friend of Ravi, watched him becoming intimate with another man through a webcam. Wei initially faced similar charges to Ravi, but eventually made a deal in which she would testify against Ravi in exchange for community service and other conditions in lieu of jail time.

Ravi faces a total of 15 charges, including evidence tampering, invasion of privacy and bias intimidation. The state presented over 20 different witnesses, including college students, police officers, computer experts and Rutgers residence life workers. Ravi had previously been offered a plea deal in which he would have avoided jail time, but he refused. Ravi is not charged in any way with being at fault for Clementi’s death, but if he is convicted of bias intimidation– a hate crime– he faces up to ten years. Ravi could do more time if he is found guilty of the other charges, especially if he is ordered to serve his sentences consecutively.

After the jury was dismissed for the day, the attorneys continued their arguments before Judge Glenn Berman. The defense argued for an acquittal on some of the charges, but Berman ruled that the jury would have the final say. The defense will begin calling witnesses tomorrow morning.

A lengthy apology text message sent by Ravi to Clementi, was revealed to have been sent shortly after Ravi found out Clementi had requested a room change. Part of it read: “I’ve known you were gay and I have no problem with it. In fact one of my closest friends is gay and he and I have a very open relationship. I just suspected you were shy about it which is why I never broached the topic. I don’t want your freshman year to be ruined because of a petty misunderstanding, it’s adding to my guilt.” The text came four minutes after Clementi posted on his Facebook page at 8:42 p.m.: “Jumping off the gw bridge, sorry.”

In turn however the prosecution showed the video of Ravi’s interview with the Middlesex County Prosecuter’s Office. In the video Ravi says he was “weirded out” by Clementi’s guest, and subsequently left the room the two of them shared. He went to Wei’s room and accessed his web cam from her computer, because he was concerned about his possessions in his room. Ravi then said that once he and Wei saw Clementi being “intimate” they turned it off. He also says that he did not purposely set up the webcam a second time to watch Clementi. The official interviewing Ravi tells him that they know he is lying to them, and asks if he violated Clementi’s privacy. Ravi admits on the video that he did, but also adds “I didn’t realize it was something so private. It was my room too, or so I thought.” The video was posted Wednesday evening on NJ.com. (Watch it here).

Michelle Huang, another friend of Ravi’s and a current student at Cornell University, also testified during the trial. Text messages from Ravi to Huang showed that he told her to log in to his web cam for a “viewing party.” However, Huang also said that Ravi later texted her saying it was a joke. Although the court barred prosecutors from openly making connections between the allegations against Ravi and Clementi’s subsequent suicide Judge Berman said that the court was allowed to question Huang because her testimony provided important context for understanding Ravi’s text messages, the Associated Press reported.

Text message exchanges between Huang and Ravi also showed them talking about their various observations of gay people, including a “nerdy fobby asian” lesbian couple and “two guys making out on a stoop. It was gross.” When Ravi texted Huang about Clementi and is visitor, he described the situation as “creepy” and said his webcam was watching his bed.

Clementi’s guest, known only as M.B., testified earlier in the week that he saw the webcam facing Clementi’s bed while he was in the room on Sept. 19, 2010. Much of the trial focused on whether or not Ravi had invaded M.B.’s privacy. Berman told the defense that while they could argue that Ravi had every right to use the webcam to protect his possessions while a stranger (M.B.) was in his room, the prosecution could also argue that Ravi could have pointed the webcam at the door instead of Clementi’s bed.

Clementi’s death opened up worldwide talks about cyber bullying and was one of the deaths that helped spur the It Gets Better project. Gov. Chris Christie called Clementi’s suicide “an unspeakable tragedy.”

Live coverage of the trial was available on Turner Broadcasting’s TruTV network.

Click here to see the College’s reaction to Clementi’s death.