Ex-Rutgers Student Convicted of Invasion of Privacy, Bias Intimidation

Dharun Ravi faces 10 years in prison and possible deportation to his native India.

A former Rutgers University student accused of using a webcam to spy on his roommate's encounter with another man has been convicted of invasion of privacy and bias intimidation in a case that drew attention to anti-gay bullying nationwide.

Dharun Ravi, 20, was found guilty of setting up a webcam in his dorm room in September 2010 and capturing his roommate, Tyler Clementi, kissing another man, then tweeting about it and trying to catch Clementi in the act again two days later.

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."

Prosecutors said the case hinged on the numerous electronic messages they presented as evidence. Ravi's attorney said after the verdict that the defense planned to appeal.

Ravi, whose parents were in the courtroom Friday, along with Clementi's family, had little visible reaction as the verdict was read, looking down mostly as the jury went through the numerous counts.

He faces 10 years in prison and could be deported to his native India for his part in the act; that decision is up to an immigration judge.

His sentencing was set for May 21. He remains free on bail.

Clementi's parents said outside court that the trial was "painful" for them but that they attended every day to be there for their son. They urged young people everywhere to be sensitive to each other, and to take action "when you see someone do something wrong."

The trial — which included testimony from about 30 witnesses over 12 days, in addition to the closing arguments — focused on a few days in the Rutgers dorm where Ravi and Clementi, both 18-year-olds from well-off New Jersey suburbs, were randomly assigned to be first-year roommates.

Ravi's lawyer had 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."

Many jurors declined interviews Friday, but juror Bruno Ferreira told NBC New York that the verdict was "a very tough decision."

"You don't necessarily go in there thinking you want to ruin someone's life, but at the same time you got to think of all the facts and everything in the testimony," he said.

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 were bias intimidation based on sexual orientation, a hate crime.

Each bias intimidation charge included five questions. A finding of guilty on any of them made Ravi guilty of the entire charge. The jury issued a split verdict on some of those subquestions.

It found that Ravi did not try to intimidate Clementi's romantic partner, identified in court only as M.B., and that Clementi reasonably believed Ravi was trying to intimidate him because of his sexual orientation.

A string of students testified they never heard Ravi say anything bad about gays in general or Clementi in particular. But students did say Ravi expressed some concern about sharing a room with a gay man.

On Sept. 19, according to testimony, Clementi asked Ravi to leave their room so that he could have a guest. Later, Ravi tweeted: "Roommate asked for the room till midnight. I went into molly's room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay."

Ravi told police that he watched only seconds of the encounter via computer.

His friend Molly Wei testified that she and a few other students also watched the live stream of the men kissing. (Wei was initially charged in the case but was later accepted into a pretrial program that will allow her to keep her record clean.)

Two nights later, Clementi asked for the room alone again. This time, Ravi tweeted: "I dare you to video chat me between the hours of 9:30 and 12. Yes, it's happening again." He also texted a friend about a planned "viewing party" and allegedly went to friends' rooms to show them how to access the feed.

However, there was no evidence the webcam was turned on that night. Ravi told police he had put his computer to sleep. Prosecutors argued Clementi himself unplugged the computer.

According to testimony, Clementi submitted a room-change request form and talked to a resident assistant about what happened. He also used his laptop to view Ravi's Twitter site 38 times in the last two days of his life. He killed himself Sept. 22.

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. Prosecutors were not allowed to argue directly that the spying led to his death; defense lawyers were barred from saying there were other reasons he killed himself.

Gay civil rights organization Lambda Legal said the verdict "demonstrates that the jurors understand that bias crimes do not require physical weapons like a knife in one's hand."

Rutgers said in a statement that freedom of expression, tolerance and the right to personal privacy are important to any university community, and added the "sad incident should make us all pause" to recognize the importance of civility and mutual respect."

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