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Leniency urged in bullying sentence

NEW YORK - Old friends are coming to the defense of a former Rutgers University student who was convicted of hate crimes for using his webcam to view his roommate and another man kissing, in a case that came to symbolize the bullying of gay youth.

Letters from several friends of Dharun Ravi, 20, were included in a Friday court filing that asks a judge to sentence him to probation rather than prison.

The legal papers characterize Ravi as outgoing and not hateful and say it would be unfair to send him to prison, in part because doing so would probably mean that he would face deportation to his native India.

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One of the letters came from Alisa Agarwal, a Rutgers student who testified on behalf of the state at Ravi’s trial earlier this year.

“Although his humor may seem offensive to people who are not familiar with his personality, by experience, I can easily vouch that words have no malicious intention,’’ she wrote. “Never could I imagine him bullying someone.’’

Sentencing is scheduled for May 21 for Ravi, who was convicted in March in a case that gained national attention when the roommate, Tyler Clementi, killed himself days after the spying in September 2010.

Jurors found Ravi guilty of all 15 criminal counts he faced, including bias intimidation, invasion of privacy, and tampering with evidence and a witness.

Ravi’s lawyers made their appeal for leniency even as they try to persuade Judge Glenn Berman to overturn the conviction or grant him a new trial. They filed a brief earlier this week laying out that argument. Prosecutors are expected to respond to both requests in legal papers in coming weeks.

Public support appears to be building for Ravi, who was portrayed by some commentators as hateful.

A “Support Ravi’’ event was scheduled for Friday night in Edison and a rally at the State House is being planned for later this month.

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