The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in action.
Defendant in Rutgers Spying Case Guilty of Hate Crimes
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — A jury on Friday convicted a former Rutgers University student, Dharun Ravi, of hate crimes for using a webcam to spy on his roommate kissing another man in their dorm room.
The jury also found Mr. 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.
Mr. Ravi’s roommate, Tyler Clementi, jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge three days after Mr. 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.
Mr. Ravi looked down but did not seem to react as the jury forewoman read the verdict on Friday. Mr. 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, Mr. Ravi’s mother clutched his arm as he left the courtroom in a swarm of television cameras.
Mr. Ravi, 20, was not charged in Mr. 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 Mr. Clementi the first night he turned on the webcam to watch. But the jury concluded that Mr. Clementi had reason to believe he had been targeted because he was gay, and in one charge, the jury found that Mr. Ravi had known Mr. Clementi would feel intimidated by his actions.
The jury of seven women and five men deliberated for about two days, following more than three weeks of testimony. Judge Glenn Berman set a sentencing date of May 21, and told Mr. Ravi’s lawyers they had six weeks to file papers in any appeal. Mr. 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. Mr. Ravi’s lawyers agreed that he had set up a webcam on his computer, then gone into a friend’s room and viewed Mr. Clementi kissing a man he had invited to his room three weeks after arriving at Rutgers in September 2010. Mr. Ravi sent Twitter and text messages telling others what he had seen, and urged them to watch a second viewing, then deleted messages after Mr. 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 Mr. Ravi and Mr. Clementi were thinking at the time.
Did Mr. Ravi set up the webcam because he had a pretty good idea that he would see Mr. Clementi in an intimate moment? Did he target Mr. Clementi and the man he was with because they were gay? And was Mr. Clementi in fear?
Without Mr. 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 Mr. Clementi had checked Mr. Ravi’s Twitter feed — where Mr. Ravi told others he had seen his roommate “kissing a dude” — 38 times in the days after the first webcam viewing. Records showed that Mr. Clementi had gone online to request a room change, and a resident assistant testified that Mr. Clementi had complained to him.
But the defense argued that if Mr. 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.
Mr. Clementi’s suicide came up only in passing during the trial, when a lawyer asked the boyfriend how he had learned of Mr. Clementi’s death. The man, who testified under tight cover and was identified in court 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 or, as the resident assistant said, “a roommate issue” into something far more grave.
Mr. Clementi’s parents, brothers and a huddle of friends sat on one side of the courtroom. On the other sat Mr. Ravi’s parents, who brought him here from India when he was young, and their friends, including several who had served as character witnesses for Mr. Ravi, testifying he was not biased against gays.
The testimony painted a picture of two college freshman, both from top performing high schools in well-off suburbs, who could not have been more different. Mr. Clementi was shy and reserved, an accomplished violinist who had only recently told his parents he was gay. Mr. Ravi was a boastful computer wizard and ultimate Frisbee player who communicated with friends constantly via Twitter, text message and iChat.
Mr. Ravi’s lawyers argued that he was “a kid” with little experience of homosexuality who had stumbled into a situation that scared him. M.B., who was 30 at the time, had made him nervous, the lawyers argued, so he set up his webcam to keep an eye on his belongings. Mr. Ravi, they argued, was being sarcastic when he had sent messages daring friends to connect to his webcam, or declaring that he was having a “viewing party.”
But prosecutors argued that his frequent messages mentioning Mr. Clementi’s sexuality proved that Mr. Ravi was upset about having a gay roommate from the minute he discovered it through a computer search several weeks before they arrived at Rutgers in fall 2010.