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Former Rutgers student found guilty of hate crimes

With webcam, showed roommate as he kissed man

Dharun Ravi left court with his father.
Dharun Ravi left court with his father.Mel Evans/associated press/Associated Press

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. - A jury convicted a former Rutgers University student, Dharun Ravi, of hate crimes and invasion of privacy Friday for using a webcam to spy on his roommate kissing another man in their dorm room.

The jury also found Ravi guilty of tampering with evidence and witnesses for trying to change Twitter and text messages in which he had encouraged others to watch the webcam.

Ravi’s roommate, Tyler Clementi, jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge three days after Ravi viewed him on the webcam. The case became a symbol of the struggles facing gay, lesbian, and bisexual teenagers and the problem of cyberbullying in an era when laws governing hate crimes have not kept up with evolving technology.

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Ravi looked down but did not seem to react as the jury forewoman read the verdict Friday. Clementi’s parents and family sat with arms around one another, leaning forward as they listened to the forewoman speak. Jane Clementi, Tyler’s mother, appeared to cry as the verdict was read. Afterward, Ravi’s mother clutched his arm as he left the courtroom in a swarm of television cameras.

Jane Clementi (right), the mother of a Rutgers student who committed suicide, hugged a family member after the verdict.
Jane Clementi (right), the mother of a Rutgers student who committed suicide, hugged a family member after the verdict. JERRY MCCREA/THE STAR-LEDGER VIA AP/Associated Press

Ravi, 20, was not charged in Clementi’s death. He faced 15 accounts of invasion of privacy, bias intimidation, tampering with evidence and a witness, and hindering apprehension.

The jury found that he did not intend to intimidate Clementi the first night he turned on the webcam to watch. But jurors concluded that Clementi had reason to believe he had been targeted because he was gay, and in one charge, the jury found that Ravi had known Clementi would feel intimidated by his actions.

The jury found Ravi not guilty on some subparts of some of the charges, but guilty of all 15 counts as a whole. The hate crime charges each carry up to 10 years in prison.

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The jury of seven women and five men deliberated for about two days after more than three weeks of testimony. Judge Glenn Berman set a sentencing date of May 21 and told Ravi’s lawyers they had six weeks to file papers in any appeal. Ravi’s passport has been surrendered; prosecutors had said he could face possible deportation to his native India.

The case was rare because almost none of the facts were in dispute. Ravi’s lawyers agreed that he had set up a webcam on his computer, then gone into a friend’s room and viewed Clementi kissing a man he had invited to his room three weeks after arriving at Rutgers in September 2010. Ravi sent Twitter and text messages telling others what he had seen, and urged them to watch a second viewing, then deleted messages after Clementi killed himself. That account had been established by a long trail of electronic evidence, from Twitter feeds and cellphone records, dormitory surveillance cameras, dining hall swipe cards, and a “netflow’’ analysis showing when and how computers in the dormitory connected.

What the jury had to decide, and what set off debate outside as well as inside the courtroom, was what Ravi and Clementi were thinking at the time.

Did Ravi set up the webcam because he had a pretty good idea that he would see Clementi in an intimate moment? Did he target Clementi and the man he was with because they were gay? And was Clementi in fear?

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Without Clementi to speak for himself, that last question was perhaps the most difficult to determine, and questions the jurors sent from their deliberation room suggested they struggled with it.

The prosecution had pointed out that Clementi had checked Ravi’s Twitter feed - where Ravi told others he had seen his roommate “kissing a dude’’ - 38 times in the days after the first webcam viewing. Records showed that Clementi had gone online to request a room change, and a resident assistant testified that Clementi had complained to him.

But the defense argued that if Clementi had felt intimidated, he would have accepted when the resident assistant offered him another place to stay, and he would not have invited his boyfriend back to the room.

Clementi’s suicide came up only in passing during the trial, when a lawyer asked the boyfriend how he had learned of Clementi’s death. The man, who was identified only as M.B. because he was considered a victim in the case, testified that he had read about it in a newspaper, as the suicide prompted international attention. Still, the death defined the trial, turning what might have been a peeping Tom case into something far more grave.