Jury gets case in Rutgers webcam spying trial
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (AP) — After nearly two weeks of testimony, the case that kick-started national conversations about gay youths and Internet privacy went on Wednesday to a jury that must decide whether a former Rutgers University student is a criminal or just a young man who was confused by seeing two men kiss.
Dharun Ravi, now 20, is accused of viewing a few seconds of an intimate encounter between his roommate, Tyler Clementi, and another man in the roommates’ dormitory room at Rutgers and telling people about it in text messages and tweets and in person. He could face years in prison if convicted of charges including invasion of privacy and bias intimidation, a hate crime.
Jurors asked for a copy of the judge’s instructions to them on Wednesday afternoon, after less than an hour of deliberations. Judge Glenn Berman said he didn’t have a copy to give them but said he would answer specific questions if they had them. A bit later, they asked about one of the bias intimidation charges, wanting to know definitions of “intimidation” and “purpose.”
Lawyers gave their summations Tuesday in the case, which has gotten enormous attention since the events of September 2010, when Clementi jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge. Mr. Ravi faces no charges related to Clementi’s suicide.
Last year, prosecutors offered Mr. Ravi a plea bargain that called for no prison time — and help avoid deportation.
“The decision was made by his legal team to roll the dice,” said Michael Wildes, a New York City immigration lawyer who is not involved in the case. “We’ll see whether it was a good decision.”
In theory, all 15 of the charges he faces — among them are hindering apprehension, tampering with a witness and tampering with evidence — could result in prison time. But incarceration is likely only if he’s convicted of one of the two second-degree bias intimidation charges he faces.
Mr. Wildes said the government also could seek to deport Mr. Ravi if he’s convicted of a crime it considers to involve “moral turpitude,” whether he’s imprisoned for it or not. The list of those crimes is long, Mr. Wildes said.
Any deportation decision would have to be made by a federal immigration judge. And, Mr. Wildes said, Mr. Ravi could argue that his deportation would harm U.S. citizens or that he should remain in the country because he has lived here legally with his family since he was a young boy and because he has no prior criminal record.
As for the immigration help from state authorities, Mr. Wildes said such offers are usually “empty promises.”
The trial, which included testimony from about 30 witnesses over 12 days in addition to the closing arguments, focused on a few days in the dorm where Mr. Ravi and Clementi, both 18-year-olds from well-off New Jersey suburbs, were randomly assigned to be first-year roommates.
Defense attorney Steven Altman told jurors that Mr. Ravi was surprised to turn on his webcam and see his roommate in an intimate situation with another man. He emphasized that there was no recording, no broadcast and no YouTube video of the Sept. 19, 2010, encounter.
And he said Mr. Ravi was not acting out of hatred of his roommate or gays in general when he saw the image from his webcam on the computer of another student.