TOPICS > Politics

Ex-Rutgers Student Guilty of Invasion of Privacy, Bias Intimidation

March 16, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
Dharun Ravi, a former Rutgers University student, was found guilty Friday of all 15 charges against him, including bias intimidation, invasion of privacy and tampering with evidence, relating to a webcam spying incident that preceded the suicide of his roommate, Tyler Clementi. Ray Suarez reports.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight, a closer look at the verdict in the case of a former Rutgers University student and the roommate he spied on.

Ray Suarez has our story.

RAY SUAREZ: The jury found Dharun Ravi guilty on 15 counts of bias intimidation, invasion of privacy, and tampering with evidence, among others. The 20-year-old was not charged with Tyler Clementi’s death.

But Ravi’s actions, including the spying on his roommate with a Webcam, came three days before Clementi took his own life. No direct connection was alleged, but the case became a flash point for discussions about bullying, intimidation, and attitudes towards gay men and women.

Kate Zernike has been covering the case for The New York Times, and has been at the courthouse in New Brunswick, New Jersey, today.

And, Kate, of the many counts on which Ravi was found guilty. what are the most serious and what are the potential penalties he could face?

KATE ZERNIKE, The New York Times: Well, certainly, the most serious, Ray, were the charges of hate crime, which include what you mentioned, the bias intimidation, the notion that he did this to Tyler Clementi because Tyler was gay.

The charges include — are — include anywhere from five to 10 years in prison. In addition, because Ravi was not born here, he was born in India, there is some possibility that he will be deported.

RAY SUAREZ: Have any members of the jurors talked to the media? Because this would seem to be a total repudiation of the defense’s case that this was a prank by an immature boy.

KATE ZERNIKE: That’s absolutely true.

We’ve talked to one juror. But what he said was that just the number of Twitter messages that Dharun Ravi sent out about this, that it wasn’t just — that that is what got them, that it wasn’t just one message. It wasn’t just saying, oh, my roommate is gay, or, oh, just watch my roommate.

It was several messages saying, do this, that it showed an intent, that it was very hard to read someone’s state of mind, but when he says in several message to his friends or his Twitter followers turn on your Webcams and iChat me, that that showed his intention to expose Tyler Clementi and to invade his privacy.

RAY SUAREZ: Do all these convictions, especially on the most serious charges, leave Ravi in some jeopardy for deportation, since he’s a legal resident, but not a citizen of the United States?

KATE ZERNIKE: Yes, absolutely.

Now, prosecutors have said that they will not comment on that and that that is up to immigration officials. But that is certainly — all along, that’s been one of the dangers of this. And in the plea bargain offers that Mr. Ravi was given over the summer — he twice refused them — in those plea bargains, he could have avoided deportation. But he chose not to accept those plea bargains because his lawyer said he wasn’t guilty, he didn’t believe that he had intimidated anyone.

RAY SUAREZ: Any reactions from the 20-year-old himself as he sat in the courthouse and heard the verdict being read out?

KATE ZERNIKE: You know, I have to say that his parents, who have been there every day, and Dharun Ravi himself were remarkably stoic throughout this.

I think it looked from his face that he expected to be found guilty on these charges of invasion of privacy, but when they said to him — when the jury foreperson read out guilty on bias intimidation, his eyes sort of popped out and he looked directly away from the jury. He really seemed surprised by that.

But, for the most part, he sat stoically and left quite quietly, and then left the courtroom without saying anything, left the courthouse without saying anything.

RAY SUAREZ: As we’ve mentioned, he wasn’t charged in any way with the death of Tyler Clementi, but did that young man’s suicide find its way into the trial?

KATE ZERNIKE: You know, it never came up in — certainly in the closing arguments that either lawyer made to the jury.

It only came up once, when the man Tyler Clementi had been with on that Webcam viewing was testifying in court and they asked him how he found out that Tyler Clementi died. And he said he read it in the newspaper.

But, no, really the suicide was not part of it. But, on the other hand, it’s hard to believe that the jurors themselves would not have considered the suicide. Prosecutors say they would have brought this case whether or not Tyler Clementi committed suicide, but the jurors had seen the man he was with who was identified as M.B. They had seen him in court.

And they ruled in the end that Dharun Ravi had not violated his privacy, that he had not targeted him because he was gay. But, separately, they said that he had — that Ravi had targeted Tyler Clementi because he was gay.

And you sort of have to think that the reason they did that, the reason they made that distinction is because they didn’t have Tyler there. All they had to consider was the fact that Tyler had killed himself.

RAY SUAREZ: Kate, did Ravi’s attorney at any point discuss his decision not to put his client on the stand to speak in his own defense?

KATE ZERNIKE: No.

They were very — quite closed about their decision not to do that. I think, in the end, they felt that their case sort of spoke for itself. I think they believed that he would not be convicted of bias intimidation, that the evidence simply wasn’t there, that the jury would see him as — at the time of the Webcam viewing, they would say, well, he was just an 18-year-old kid and he was kind of a punk, but really that was about it, he wasn’t a homophobe.

RAY SUAREZ: Tyler Clementi’s parents were in the courtroom today. Did they have any reaction to the verdict?

KATE ZERNIKE: They read a very brief statement. And they seemed very reluctant to say anything about their own reaction, although they said it had been difficult watching the trial.

What they really seemed to most want to do was to appeal to middle and high school students. And their message was very simple. It was, you may not always like the people you meet in life, but you should try to get along with them. And if you see someone do something hateful, speak out against it, stop it.

And it seemed like they were really trying to emphasize sort of what could be the legacy of their son.

RAY SUAREZ: The sentencing has been set for May. In the meantime, is Dharun Ravi free? Did he walk out of the courtroom today?

KATE ZERNIKE: He did. He did have to surrender his passport. But he walked out of the courtroom free.

His lawyers have, I believe, six weeks to file papers. And I believe that would include their intention to file an appeal. And they did send out a brief email statement saying that they of course intended to appeal this decision.

RAY SUAREZ: Kate Zernike of The New York Times joining us from New Jersey, good to talk to you.

KATE ZERNIKE: Thanks Ray.