Why the Jury Found Dharun Ravi Guilty of a Hate Crime
Dharun Ravi was found guilty of all 15 charges leveled against him in connection with digitally spying on Tyler Clementi, including bias intimidation.
The Rutgers University spying trial has dealt a mighty blow to Dharun Ravi, who was found guilty on Friday of all 15 of the charges he faced in connection to peeping via webcam on his roommate, Tyler Clementi, as Clementi had sex with another man in September 2010. Ravi had promoted his invasive broadcast via tweets and text messages, in which he encouraged friends to tune in and watch the intimate moment unfold in real time. Clementi would take his own life three days later, by jumping off of the George Washington Bridge. Ravi was not standing trial for Clementi's death, but his supporters argued that in a way he was: They argued that by appending the "hate crime" label to it, and the harsher sentences that come along with it, Ravi was being subjected to manslaughter-level justice for what amounted to an immature and bratty prank. Besides, there was no way to prove Ravi held any bias against gay people. The jury didn't agree.
Ravi was found guilty of invasion of privacy, hindering a prosecution, tampering with evidence (certain text messages to key witnesses had disappeared during the investigation) and, most damningly, bias intimidation -- a hate crime. Looking hard at the digital evidence amassed by the prosecution, including Twitter feeds, Facebook posts, text messages and e-mails, the jury found Ravi's second attempt at webcasting one of Clementi's encounters was proof that his sexuality was the motive behind Ravi's scheming.
There were two incidents, NPR notes. In the first, Ravi tweeted: "Roommate asked for the room till midnight. I went into Molly's room and saw him making out with a dude. Yay." Then, two days later, Ravi tweeted, "I dare anyone with iChat to video chat me between the hours of 9:30 and 12. Yes, it's happening again."
From The New York Times:
“To attempt a second time, is what changed my mind,” [juror Lynn Audet, 45, a schoolteacher from Perth Amboy] said. “A reasonable person would have closed it and ended it there, not tweeted about it.”
The webcam did not work for the second encounter; Mr. Ravi, 20, claimed that he had turned it off. But Ms. Audet said evidence suggested that he was lying. “He was at ultimate Frisbee practice,” she said, and evidence showed he then went to a dining hall. “We came to the conclusion that it was Tyler who turned off the computer to make sure he wasn’t filmed a second time.”
She added, “That hit home big.”
The other key to the hate crime conviction came in Clementi's own response to Ravi's acts. While he was not alive to testify, he left behind a significant amount of evidence suggesting he felt bullied by his roommate:
[H]e complained to his resident assistant, he went online to request a room change, he saved screen shots of Mr. Ravi’s more offensive online posts, and he viewed his roommate’s Twitter feed 38 times in the two days before he killed himself by jumping off the George Washington Bridge.
The defense pointed to an "apologetic text" sent by Ravi in which he claimed to have no issues with gay people, and had a close high school friend who was gay. At the moment it was sent, however, Clementi was leaping to his death. Jurors weren't compelled, and wondered where this supposedly gay friend was to vouch for Ravi on the stand.
Some of the charges carry penalties of 5 to 10 years in prison. Ravi, a native of India, also faces deportation -- a fate he could have avoided had he accepted a number of plea deals that would have required him to plea guilty to bias intimidation, something he flatly rejected. Sentencing is on May 21.