NEW BRUNSWICK, New Jersey (Reuters) – A jury on Wednesday began deciding whether Dharun Ravi committed a hate crime when he used a webcam to spy on his college roommate Tyler Clementi kissing another man in a case that put a national spotlight on gay bullying when Clementi committed suicide days later.
Terms like “Tweeting,” “IM” and “texting” are part of the evidence that the panel of 12 jurors must weigh to decide whether to convict Ravi, a former Rutgers University student, of any of the 15 counts of invasion of privacy, witness tampering and bias intimidation, which is a hate crime.
Ravi, now 20, is not charged in the death of Clementi, 18, who jumped off the George Washington Bridge on September 22, 2010 after learning his freshman roommate covertly saw him kissing another man and appeared to encourage others to watch through a camera on Ravi’s computer.
Ravi faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of the most serious charges. Although he has lived nearly his entire life with his family in the United States, he is not a citizen and could be deported back to India, where he was born.
Judge Glenn Berman instructed the jurors that in order to convict on the bias charges, they will have to decide if Ravi singled out Clementi because he was gay.
“You need to have reason to believe that he was targeted,” the judge said before turning the case over to the jury in Middlesex County, New Jersey Court. “The belief must be a reasonable one.”
The seven women and five men on the jury, who appear to range in age from their 20s to 70s, were urged in summations by defense lawyer Steven Altman to dismiss Ravi’s actions as those of a foolish child trying to impress others rather than a bully who harbored a prejudice against gays.
Middlesex County Assistant Prosecutor Julia McClure in her closing said Ravi’s messages about Clementi on Twitter and other social media, including one inviting others to a “viewing party” through a webcam aimed at Clementi’s bed after he asked for the room alone, showed his animosity toward his gay roommate.
Clementi checked Ravi’s Twitter account 38 times in the two days before he killed himself, the prosecution told the jury.
(Editing By Barbara Goldberg and Paul Thomasch)