A former Rutgers University student who used a Web cam to watch his roommate kiss another man days before the roommate killed himself was sentenced on Monday to 30 days in jail.
A judge also gave 20-year-old Dharun Ravi three years of probation. The ruling came in an unusual, emotional and tragic case dealing with the consequences of bad decisions by young people in the Internet age — but certainly not ending the debate surrounding New Jersey’s tough hate-crimes laws.
Judge Glenn Berman said he would not recommend that Ravi be deported to India, where he was born and remains a citizen. However, Ravi was ordered to get counseling and to pay US$10,000 that would go to a program to help victims of bias crimes.
The case began in September 2010 when Ravi’s randomly assigned freshman-year roommate asked Ravi to stay away so he and a guest could have privacy.
Ravi went to a friend’s room and turned on his Web cam remotely. Jurors at his trial earlier this year heard that he and the friend saw just seconds of Tyler Clementi kissing the guest, who was identified in court only by the initials M.B. However, they told others about it through instant messages and tweets.
And later, the friend, Molly Wei, showed a few seconds of the live-streamed video to other residents of the dorm. Wei later entered a pre-trial intervention program that can spare her jail or a criminal record if she meets a list of conditions.
When Clementi, an 18-year-old violinist from Ridgewood, asked for privacy again two days later, Ravi agreed — then told friends how they could access his Web cam.
However, this time, the Web cam was not on when M.B. came over. There was testimony both that Clementi unplugged it and that Ravi himself put it to sleep.
The next night, Clementi jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge. Jurors learned that he checked Ravi’s Twitter feed repeatedly before his suicide.
After the suicide, gay-rights and anti-bullying activists held up Clementi as an example of the horrible consequences of bullying young gays. Even US President Barack Obama spoke about the tragedy.
Prosecutors offered Ravi a plea deal that called for no prison time, but would have forced him to admit to committing six different crimes. He turned it down.
After a trial that lasted four weeks, Ravi was convicted of all 15 criminal charges he faced, including four counts of the hate crime of bias intimidation, invasion of privacy and seven counts accusing him of trying to cover his tracks by tampering with evidence, a witness and other means.
The most complicated and serious counts were bias intimidation, two of which are second-degree crimes punishable by up to 10 years in prison. During legal arguments out of earshot of the jury, Berman called the law on the issue “muddled.”
Just as Clementi became a symbol for a complicated cause, so has Ravi.
Several hundred supporters rallied at New Jersey’s State House last week to denounce the way the state’s hate-crime laws were being used on someone they said was not hateful. They were hoping Ravi would not be sent to prison and that the law could be changed so that someone in his situation again would not be found to have committed a hate crime.