Rutgers student Dharun Ravi is facing a possible ten years in prison after he used his webcam to spy on a gay roommate and broadcast the resulting video.
In 2010, Ravi's 18-year old roommate, Tyler Clementi, was filmed with an unidentified partner by Ravi and a friend, who then showed the footage around their campus and announced that more footage would be coming. Clementi, who had only just come out to his parents, killed himself shortly afterwards by jumping the George Washington bridge, leaving a suicide note on Facebook reading "Jumping off the gw bridge, sorry."
Ravi was charged with 15 indictments, including invasion of privacy, bias intimidation, tampering with evidence and a witness, and hindering apprehension. The jury took two days to consider its verdict, and found him guilty of bias intimidation (considered a hate crime), and of tampering with evidence – Ravi had attempted to delete evidence of his activities after Clementi committed suicide.
"These acts were purposeful, they were intentional, and they were planned," prosecutor Julia McClure told the jury on the first day of the trial, CNN reports. She claimed that Ravi "was bothered by Tyler Clementi's sexual orientation."
Ravi's lawyers argued that it was a simple prank gone horribly wrong, and that Ravi had simply been immature. "He hasn't lived long enough to have any experience with homosexuality or gays," his attorney Steven Altman said in closing arguments. "He doesn't know anything about it. He just graduated high school."
While the case sparked a national debate on the problems of gay bullying, it also highlighted the fact that cyberbullying is relatively easy to prove in a legal context. Twitter feeds, computer hard drives, and text messages were all used to define exactly what happened, to the extent that both sides did not dispute the events themselves – just the motivations behind them.
The court did allow Ravi to appeal, and he is now free on $25,000 bail. He faces ten years in prison and deportation to his native India, after turning down a plea deal that would have seen him do 600 hours of community service and receive counseling. Fellow student Molly Wei, who also participated, took a deal to testify against her friend in exchange for 300 hours of community service and undergoing a course on cyber bullying. ®
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