NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — A former Rutgers University student who used a webcam to spy on his gay roommate was sentenced Monday to 30 days in jail — a punishment that disappointed some activists, but came as a relief to others who feared he would be made a scapegoat for his fellow freshman’s suicide.
Dharun Ravi, 20, could have gotten 10 years behind bars for his part in a case that burst onto the front pages after Tyler Clementi threw himself off the George Washington Bridge. The case focused attention on antigay bullying, teen suicide, and hate-crime laws in the fast-changing Internet age.
Ravi was also placed on three years’ probation and ordered to get counseling and pay $10,000 toward a program to help victims of hate crimes.
“Our society has every right to expect zero tolerance for intolerance,’’ Judge Glenn Berman said in imposing the sentence. He said he would not recommend Ravi be deported to India, where he was born and is a citizen.
A New Jersey gay-rights organization, Garden State Equality, expressed disappointment with the punishment. In a statement, chairman Steven Goldstein said that while the maximum would have been too much, the 30-day sentence was close to the other possible extreme, no prison time at all.
“This was not merely a childhood prank gone awry. This was not a crime without bias,’’ Goldstein said.
Prosecutors had asked that Ravi be sent to prison; they did not say how much time he should get, other than that it did not have to be the maximum.
Ravi did not speak in court but shed tears as his mother pleaded with the judge not to send him to prison. Afterward, Ravi, his family and his lawyers left without comment. He is expected to appeal his conviction.
Prosecutors told the judge they are considering appealing the sentence, but they had no immediate comment outside court.
Ravi had declined the prosecution’s offer of a plea agreement that called for no prison time. After a trial that lasted four weeks, he was convicted of all 15 charges against him, including invasion of privacy, antigay intimidation, and trying to cover his tracks by destroying text messages and tweets and tampering with a witness.
The case began in September 2010 when Ravi’s randomly assigned freshman-year roommate asked Ravi for the room alone so that he and guest could have privacy. Ravi went to a friend’s room and turned on his webcam remotely, and they saw Clementi and his guest kissing.
They told others about it online, with Ravi tweeting: “I saw him making out with a dude. Yay.’’
When Clementi asked for privacy again two days later, Ravi agreed, then told friends how to access his webcam. But this time, the camera was not on when the guest came over.
The next night, Clementi - who had learned he had been spied on - committed suicide at age 18, leaving behind a final Facebook update: “jumping off the GW bridge, sorry.’’
After the suicide, gay-rights and antibullying activists held up Clementi as an example of the consequences of bullying young gays. President Obama himself spoke about the tragedy.
In handing down the sentence, the judge told Ravi that while someone might argue the first spying attempt was a foolish prank, “you cannot make or milk that argument a second time.’’
Berman also berated Ravi for deleting scores of text messages and tweets and trying to influence a witness. At the same time, Berman said Ravi has spent the past 20 months in “exile’’ since his arrest. The judge also pointed out that Ravi was not charged in Clementi’s death, and suggested “hate crime’’ is a misnomer for what Ravi was convicted of: “I do not believe he hated Tyler Clementi.’’
The judge quoted an e-mail from Clementi himself describing Ravi’s conduct as “wildly inappropriate.’’’
Ravi’s mother, Sabitha Ravi, told the judge her son “doesn’t have any hatred in his heart toward anybody.’’
Clementi’s father, Joseph Clementi, told the judge that Ravi deserved to be punished, saying the young man saw his son as undeserving of basic human decency. The elder Clementi said Ravi “still does not get it’’ and has no remorse.
Just as Clementi became a symbol for a complicated cause, so has Ravi. Some have portrayed the case as a tragic lesson in unintended consequences and the dangers of the Internet in the hands of young people.