New York: Indian-American student Dharun Ravi was found guilty on Friday of evidence tampering, invasion of privacy and hate crimes for using a webcam to spy on his gay roommate Tyler Clementi’s liaison with another man in their Rutgers University dorm room.
With the jury handing down a guilty verdict, Ravi, 20, could now get 10 years in prison on the most serious charges of bias intimidation against Clementi, 18, who jumped off a bridge days after learning that his gay liaison was caught on webcam in September 2010. Ravi was also convicted of encouraging others to spy during a second date, on 21 September 2010, and intimidating Clementi for being gay, although he was not charged with causing Clementi's death.
Ravi, who has lived most of his life in the US, is free on a $25,000 bail but will be sentenced on 21 May . Since Ravi is an Indian citizen, and is in the US on a green card, lawyers say he could be deported following his May sentencing.
Clementi's mother, who sat with her husband and sons in the front row for the three-week trial, had tears splashing down her face as the first "guilty" verdict was read. Ravi masked his reaction as the jury read out the verdict in a packed courtroom in Middlesex County, New Jersey but at one point he covered his mouth with his hand and looked shocked.
After 12 hours of deliberations over three days, the jury convicted Ravi on all 15 counts although he was found not guilty of some subparts of the 15 counts of bias intimidation. Prosecutors basically needed him only to be found guilty of one part of each count to be convicted.
"It was a complicated verdict, but it was good tactic by the prosecution to build as strong a case as they could. This jury convicted Dharun Ravi of everything it reasonably could have," said ABC News' Chris Cuomo, who said the counts and subcounts were a tactical move by the prosecution to build a stronger case against Ravi.
In an unusual move, juror Bruno Ferreira talked to the media following the controversial trial. He said the decisions on the charges of witness tampering, evidence tampering and invasion of privacy were "easy" and "cut and dry," but the deliberations on the bias charges were “very difficult.”
"You can't know what someone's thinking. You have to get inside their head," Ferreira said. "Afterwards, you think about it not being done once, but being done twice another day. That's why we came to that conclusion," said Ferreira while talking about what convinced the seven-woman, five-man panel to finally convict Ravi on the more serious hate crime charges.
Clementi’s tragic death has struck an anti-bullying nerve in America and going to trial was always a gamble for Ravi. Some legal experts have slammed Ravi’s defence team for not convincing him to settle for a plea deal. Ravi rejected two plea deals before the case went to trial.
In December last year, he rejected a deal that would have allowed him to avoid jail altogether, and instead be put on probation and be required to perform 600 hours of community service and receive counselling. The state also promised they would help Ravi who is not a US citizen, if immigration authorities tried to deport him to India. Some say Ravi baulked at the plea deal as he was worried he would still be shipped off to India. Ravi also wanted his day in court to prove he wasn’t a sinister homophobe and it was just an immature college prank gone horribly wrong.
An article in The New Yorker that interviewed several people who knew Ravi implied that Ravi is not homophobic inasmuch as he is casually cruel and a loudmouth jerk who seeks attention. Therefore, it was just like Ravi to gossip about his roommate on Twitter: “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.”
Clementi read Ravi’s “Yay” tweet the next day. Two days later, Ravi slyly set up another voyeuristic viewing. The day after that, Clementi committed suicide by jumping from the George Washington Bridge.
In the days before he committed suicide, Clementi checked Ravi's Twitter page 38 times, the prosecutor said. "Three weeks into the semester and (Clementi) finds out that his sexual orientation has been broadcast to the defendant's twitter followers," said Middlesex County Prosecutor Julie McClure. "What do you think he's thinking? 'If Molly saw it, did Cassie see it? Did people in the hall see it? Did people in Davidson C see it?' You don't think that he was intimidated by learning that information? Fearful, embarrassed?” asked McClure.
But Ravi's defence portrayed him instead as an immature college kid who used poor judgment for a prank, not as someone who hated gay people. Few in America are willing to buy Ravi’s “immature joking” defence. HuffPost Gay Voices Editor-At-Large Michelangelo Signorile said; "It's a just verdict that will send a message about the seriousness of bias-motivated crimes."