A former Rutgers University student accused of using a webcam to spy on his gay roommate’s love life was convicted of invasion of privacy and anti-gay intimidation March 16 in a case that exploded into the headlines when the victim of the snooping committed suicide by throwing himself off a bridge.
Dharun Ravi, 20, shook his head slightly after hearing the guilty verdicts on all 15 counts against him.
He could get several years in prison—and could be deported to his native India, even though he has lived legally in the U.S. since he was a little boy—for his part in an act that cast a spotlight on teen suicide and anti-gay bullying and illustrated the internet’s potential for tormenting others.
Prosecutors said that Ravi set up a webcam in his dorm room in September 2010 and captured his roommate, Tyler Clementi, kissing another man, then tweeted about it and excitedly tried to catch Clementi in the act again two days later. About a half-dozen students were believed to have seen the live video of the kissing.
Within days, Clementi realized he had been watched and leaped from the George Washington Bridge after posting one last status update on Facebook: “Jumping off the gw bridge, sorry.”
At a courthouse news conference after the verdict, Clementi’s father, Joe, addressed himself to college students and other young people, saying: “You’re going to meet a lot of people in your life. Some of these people you may not like. Just because you don’t like them doesn’t mean you have to work against them.”
Rutgers said in a statement: “This sad incident should make us all pause to recognize the importance of civility and mutual respect in the way we live, work, and communicate with others.”
During trial, Ravi’s lawyer argued that the college freshman was not motivated by any malice toward gays—a necessary element to prove a hate crime—and that his actions were just those of an immature “kid.” The defense also contended Ravi initially set up the camera because he was afraid Clementi’s older, “sketchy”-looking visitor might steal his belongings.
The jury found Ravi not guilty on some subparts of some of the charges, but guilty of all 15 counts as a whole.
The most serious charges—bias intimidation based on sexual orientation, a hate crime—carry up to 10 years behind bars each. But legal experts said the most Ravi would probably get all together at sentencing May 21 would be 10 years.
Before the trial, Ravi and his lawyers had rejected a plea bargain that would have spared him from prison. He would have gotten probation and 600 hours of community service and would have been given help in avoiding deportation.
Ravi was not charged with causing Clementi’s death, and the suicide remained largely in the background at the trial, though some witnesses mentioned it and the jury was told Clementi had taken his life.