Guilty verdict for former Rutgers student

Dharun Ravi sits in the Middlesex Courtoom where he was convicted of a hate crime on Friday, March 16. / AP Photo

After three days of deliberation, the Middlesex County jury found 20-year-old Dharun Ravi guilty of invasion of privacy and bias intimidation, along with 13 other counts, making him eligible for up to 10 years behind bars as well as subsequent deportation from the country. The trial, in which the jury reached a verdict on Friday, March 16, stemmed from Ravi’s actions in 2010 in which he viewed his roommate’s intimate encounter with another man through a webcam.

The former Rutgers student only shook his head slightly as he heard the verdict of the case that began in 2010 when his former roommate, Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi, jumped to his death off the George Washington Bridge on Sept. 22, 2010 after finding out Ravi had tweeted about seeing his dorm room encounters with another man, known throughout the case only as “M.B.,”,through his computer web cam. Ravi remained silent for the duration the trial and showed little emotion. Rather, throughout the broadcast of the trial proceedings (live on TruTV) Ravi appeared dazed.

Ravi declined to take the stand in his defense, and also turned down a plea deal that would have helped him avoid jail time. Now Ravi will have to reappear in court on May 21 for sentencing. He faces up to 10 years in prison, but also could be deported to India— where he was born— because of his conviction of anti-gay intimidation, a hate crime in New Jersey.

After the first webcam incident, in which Ravi said he logged in to his webcam from fellow Rutgers freshman Molly Wei’s computer (Wei was initially also charged but reached a plea deal with prosecutors), Ravi discovered that Clementi was planning to meet M.B. again. Ravi texted his friends about it and even “dared” others via Twitter to log in to his webcam saying “Yes, it’s happening again.”

Juror Bruno Ferreira told the New York Daily News it was this second spying incident that tipped the jury toward its guilty verdict. “Thinking about it not being done once, being done twice,” he said. “Not just one day.”

Evidence brought forth in the case showed that Ravi, after finding out that his roommate had requested a room change, sent Clementi a long apology text message, part of which 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.”
Ravi’s apology text was sent just minutes after Clementi made his final post on Facebook. It was unclear if he ever read Ravi’s message.

The trial lasted a total of 13 days and jurors heard from over 20 witnesses for the prosecution and nine for the defense. The witnesses were made up of numerous college students, police investigators and computer experts.

Ravi’s attorney Steven Altman argued that his client was nothing more than an immature freshman playing a stupid prank on his roommate that unfortunately went terribly wrong. He also told the jury that Ravi had no anti-gay sentiments.

Prosecutor Julia Mclure, however, argued that Ravi’s actions were motivated nothing more that homophobia, and he had the desire to expose Clementi’s sexual orientation to others. One of Ravi’s texts introduced by the prosecution as evidence read, “Keep the gays away.” This was part of a series of texts discussing gay people that Ravi exchanged with friend Michelle Huang, who was one of the witnesses called by the prosecution.

Legally Ravi can appeal his conviction. However, his chances of success are slim because the decision was a finding of fact by a jury, which is seldom overturned.

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.”

Click here to see the College’s reaction to Clementi’s death in fall 2010.