Lawyer: Rutgers webcam spy was ‘stupid’ not a criminal

Posted: March 13, 2012

NEW BRUNSWICK - Dharun Ravi was "stupid . . . ignorant . . . immature," his lawyer told a Middlesex County Superior Court jury this morning, but he was not a criminal.

Attorney Steven Altman hammered away at that theme in a lengthy summation in the Rutgers University webcam spy case, urging the jurors who will decide his client's fate to remember that he was "an 18-year-old kid" just starting his first year in college when he saw his roommate kissing another man via a webcam stream from his dorm room.

"An 18-year-old boy, a kid, a college freshman . . . had an experience that he wasn't ready for," Altman said. "And he didn't know how to deal with it because he was a kid."

Altman's interrupted his summation before a packed courtroom to request a recess, saying he felt ill.

Judge Glenn Berman ordered an extended lunch break to give him time to recover.

Altman is to be followed by closing arguments from First Assistant County Prosecutor Julia McClure.

The jury then will begin deliberations after receiving instructions on the law from the judge.

The case has become a rallying point for gay rights advocates concerned about the bullying and harassment of teenage homosexuals.

Ravi, who no longer attends Rutgers, faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of the bias intimidation charges that are part of a 15-count indictment handed up against him last year. Ravi, 20, is accused to setting up his iChat webcam in order to spy on his college roommate during sexual encounter with another man.

Testimony in the case ended Monday with Ravi opting not to take the witness stand. Jurors, however, heard an hour-long interview with Ravi conducted by Middlesex County investigators shortly before he was arrested in September 2010. In it, Ravi admitted setting up his webcam, but said he did so because he was concerned about a guest his roommate, Tyler Clementi, had invited after asking to have their dorm room to himself on the night of Sept. 19, 2010.

Clementi, 18, committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge on Sept. 22, 2010, after learning that Ravi and other students in Davidson Hall had used a webcam iChat to view him the other man kissing on that night.

Ravi, of Plainsboro, is accused of spying on Clementi on that date and attempting to set up his laptop and spy on Clementi and a man identified only as "M.B." again on Sept. 21. Authorities say Clementi shut off Ravi's computer prior to the second meeting.

While not part of the 15-count indictment handed up against Ravi, Clementi's death has brought international attention to the case, which gay rights advocates say underscores the problems of bullying and intimidation aimed at homosexuals.

Other charges against Ravi include invasion privacy, hindering prosecution and tampering with a witness. Among other things, prosecutors say Ravi attempted to erase or alter e-mail and text messages encouraging others to view his webstream of Clementi.

Testimony from former and current Rutgers students, text messages, e-mails and tweets have provided the jury with a picture of the events that prosecutors said demonstrate bias intimidation but that the defense dismissed as "stupid" or inappropriate actions on the part of Ravi, whom they described as an immature and self-centered college freshman at the time.

By all accounts, a handful of students - no more than six including Ravi - viewed a webcam stream of Clementi and M.B kissing on the night of Sept. 19. Each viewing lasted just a few seconds, according to testimony.

M.B., whose identify has been kept secret to protect his privacy, testified about three sexual encounters he had with Clementi in the dorm room. He said they met through an online website Adam4Adam.

Clementi, of Ridgewood, was described as an accomplished violinist who had come out as gay just weeks before leaving for his freshman year at Rutgers. In an e-mail to a friend, he said his mother had "rejected" him because of it.

Clementi's parents and other family members have been in the courtroom each day of the trial, which began with opening arguments on Feb. 24.

Jane and Joseph Clementi have started a foundation in their son's name aimed at addressing the problems of bullying and harassment that teenage homosexuals often face.

They have not commented during the trial.

Ravi rejected a plea offer late last year that would have resulted in no jail time, six-month probation and several hundred hours of community service.

If convicted of the most serious charges he could be jailed and also faces possible deportation.

He came to this country with his parents from India when he was a child and is here on a green card. A criminal conviction could result in a move to deport him.

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