Former Rutgers student convicted of bias intimidation

(center) is helped by his father, Ravi Pazhani, as they leave court in New Brunswick, N.J. MEL EVANS / Associated Press
(center) is helped by his father, Ravi Pazhani, as they leave court in New Brunswick, N.J. MEL EVANS / Associated Press (Dharun Ravi,)
Posted: March 17, 2012

Former Rutgers University student Dharun Ravi was found guilty of invasion of privacy and bias intimidation Friday in a webcam spying case that focused national attention on the harassment of gay teenagers.

A Middlesex County jury found Ravi, 20, guilty of all 15 charges he faced for spying on his dormitory roommate in an intimate encounter with another man.

But in assessing the bias-intimidation, or hate-crime, charges, the jury appeared to make a distinction between Ravi's intention and how his actions were perceived by Tyler Clementi, his roommate.

Clementi, 18, committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge days after learning Ravi had used his laptop webcam to live-stream images of his Sept. 19, 2010, encounter.

The initially confusing verdict was hailed by some as a step forward in the fight against bias intimidation of gays. But a number of legal authorities questioned the jury's decision and predicted it would be appealed.

"The actions of Dharun Ravi were inexcusable and surely added to Tyler Clementi's vulnerability and pain," said Hayley Gorenberg, deputy legal director for Lambda Legal, a national organization that focuses on civil rights issues for gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered individuals. "The verdict today demonstrates that the jurors understood that bias crimes do not require physical weapons like a knife in one's hands."

Annemarie P. McAvoy, an adjunct professor at Fordham Law School, called the verdict "murky and confusing," however, and said it could provide the basis for an appeal by Ravi's attorneys.

"The jury appeared to find that Ravi's intentions were not out of hatred or bias," she said. "But the jurors believed Tyler Clementi perceived them as such. . . . It's an outrageous standard."

Ravi was charged with using iChat to stream images of Clementi and a man identified as "M.B." in Davidson Hall on Rutgers' Piscataway campus on Sept. 19, 2010, and attempting to do so again on Sept. 21.

In the four bias-intimidation counts, Ravi was convicted of conduct that caused Clementi to be intimidated and led the shy violinist, who had come out to his parents shortly before school began, to believe "that he was selected to be the target of the offense because of sexual orientation."

But the jury rejected arguments that Ravi set out to invade Clementi's privacy "with the purpose" of intimidating him and found him not guilty of that aspect of the charges.

The jury also rejected allegations that Clementi's partner was the target of bias intimidation.

Ravi shook his head but otherwise showed little emotion as the verdicts were announced shortly before noon. Neither he nor his attorney would comment as they left the courthouse.

Ravi was accompanied by his father, who placed his arm on his shoulder as they walked away. He remains free on $25,000 bail pending sentencing before trial Judge Glenn Berman.

At an impromptu news conference after the verdict, Clementi's father, Joseph, said he wanted to address college students and other young people.

"You're going to meet a lot of people in your life," he said. "Some of these people you may not like. Just because you don't like them doesn't mean you have to work against them."

The Clementis, of Ridgewood, N.J., have established a foundation to address the issues of bullying and harassment of gays. In interviews before the trial they said they wanted Ravi held accountable for his actions, but they did not advocate "harsh" punishment.

Ravi, of Plainsboro, N.J., faces up to 10 years in prison on the bias-intimidation counts. A native of India who came to the United States with his parents as a boy, he could also face deportation.

While Clementi's death was not part of the indictment, Ravi's actions symbolized to many the harassment of gays - and also the abuse of privacy in an era of social media.

Initial police reports incorrectly indicated that Ravi had videotaped and broadcast Clementi's encounters online.

In fact, testimony indicated, no more than six students, including Ravi, briefly viewed Clementi and his guest kissing on the night of Sept. 19. There was no webstream of their encounter on Sept. 21, though Ravi tried to set one up.

Throughout the trial, Ravi's attorney, Steven Altman, argued that his client did not intend to harass or intimidate Clementi because of his sexual orientation.

Altman described Ravi's actions as "stupid" and "immature" - the acts of "an 18-year-old boy."

Besides the four bias-intimidation counts, Ravi was convicted of two counts of invasion of privacy, two of attempted invasion of privacy, three of tampering with evidence, three of hindering prosecution and one of witness tampering.

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


Contact staff writer George Anastasia at 856-779-3846 or ganastasia@phillynews.com.

This article contains information from the Associated Press.

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