Dharun Ravi, a 20-year-old former Rutgers University student, has been convicted of invasion of privacy, bias intimidation, witness and evidence tampering, and evasion of apprehension in connection with several incidents in September 2010 in which he used a webcam on his dormitory room computer to spy on his gay roommate, Tyler Clementi, who was entertaining another man in their room.
Clementi, 18, jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge several days after the spying began. A star violin player from Ridgewood, New Jersey, he was described, at the time of his suicide, as a shy young man who had only recently come out to his parents.
The March 16 verdict, in which a Middlesex County, New Jersey jury found Ravi guilty of most but not all of the charges in a 15-count indictment, could land him in prison for up to ten years. As an immigrant from India, Ravi also faces the possibility of deportation.
The indictment charged that the videotaping and live-streaming of Clementi and the other man’s private conduct by Ravi, a Plainsboro, New Jersey, resident, “intended to intimidate [them] because of their sexual orientation.” The defendant, the indictment continued, had “disclosed a photograph, film, videotape, recording, or other reproduction of the image of T.C. and/ or M.B. whose intimate parts were exposed or who were engaged in an act of sexual penetration or sexual contact without the consent of T.C. and/ or M.B.”
During the trial, there was testimony that the videotaping captured images of Clementi kissing another man, now 32, identified only as M.B. Prosecutors introduced evidence that on 38 occasions in the days before his suicide, Clementi went online to look at a Ravi tweet saying he’d viewed his roommate “making out with a dude.”
New Jersey law defines invasion of privacy as a sexual offense.
The prosecutor also charged that Ravi deleted a Twitter post alerting others to a September 21 encounter between the two gay men, replacing it “with a false post on Twitter intended to mislead the investigation.” Evidence was presented showing that the defendant provided false information to investigators and attempted to persuade witnesses not to testify against him.
Molly Wei, also a former Rutgers student who admitted to having joined Ravi in viewing Clementi and M.B. remotely via the webcam stream, struck a plea deal last year in which she agreed to testify against Ravi, perform community service, and complete a cyber-bullying education program.
The invasion of privacy charges could mean up to five years in prison, but the hate crime bias intimidation charge involves a penalty of five to ten years.
Judge Glenn Berman set sentencing for May 21, and defense attorneys have six weeks to file any written briefs regarding that issue. The state then has a week to reply.
Steven Goldstein, the chair of Garden State Equality, New Jersey’s LGBT rights group, issued a written statement in the wake of the verdict.
“The fundamental question in this trial was whether Dharun Ravi would have similarly invaded the privacy of a roommate having intimate relations with someone of the opposite sex, as Ravi did to Tyler Clementi and M.B.,” it read. “In our view, the answer is no –– that Ravi would not have invaded the privacy of a straight roommate. In fact, the most compelling evidence in the case, Ravi's text messages, indicated exactly that. The text messages demonstrated beyond any doubt that Ravi was deeply uncomfortable with Tyler's being gay, and that Tyler's suitor was a guy.”
Geoffrey Irving, a Rutgers graduate who was captain of Ravi's ultimate frisbee team at the time of the incidents, testified of the defendant's attitude toward having a gay roommate, "From my observation of his demeanor, he appeared uncomfortable with the situation." Irving said Ravi told him he had videotaped Clementi with another man and planned to do so again.