NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (AP) — A former Rutgers University student convicted Friday in the webcam spying episode that ended in his gay roommate’s suicide could be headed off to prison in a case experts say stands as a tragic lesson for young people about casual cruelties and unintended consequences in the Internet age.
Dharun Ravi was found guilty of all 15 charges against him, including invasion of privacy and anti-gay intimidation. The jury decided that he not only spied on Tyler Clementi and another man as they were kissing but also singled out Clementi because he was gay.
Ravi, 20, could get up to 10 years in prison by some estimates and could be deported to his native India even though he has lived legally in the U.S. since he was a little boy.
The case stirred a national conversation about anti-gay bullying and teen suicide. It also illustrated the dangers of technology in the hands of people who have grown up with the likes of Twitter and Facebook.
“They don’t feel like they’re spying. It’s just their own iPhone they’re using, their own laptop,” said Annemarie McAvoy, an adjunct professor at Fordham Law School in New York. “Hopefully, parents will use this as an example for their children.”
On the Rutgers campus, student Melvin Ways said: “I think the lesson here is not everything is meant to be publicized to the entire world, especially private matters and things that are personal to people.”
Prosecutors said Ravi set up his webcam in his dorm room and watched Clementi kissing another man on Sept. 19, 2010, then tweeted about it and excitedly tried to catch Clementi in the act again two days later. A half-dozen students were believed to have seen the live video of the kissing; no video was taken in the second instance.
On Sept. 22, Clementi threw himself off the George Washington Bridge after posting one last status update on Facebook: “Jumping off the gw bridge, sorry.”
At a courthouse news conference after the verdict, Clementi’s father, Joe, addressed himself to college students and other young people, saying: “You’re going to meet a lot of people in your life. Some of these people you may not like. Just because you don’t like them doesn’t mean you have to work against them.”
Ravi shook his head faintly after hearing the verdict. He and his parents left the courthouse without comment, his father’s arm around his shoulders.
His attorney Steven Altman issued a brief statement saying “everyone could rest assured that at the appropriate time an appeal will be filed.”
Ravi’s lawyers had argued at the trial that the college freshman was not motivated by any hostility toward gays and that his actions were just those of an immature “kid.”
In letting the case go to trial, Ravi gambled and may have lost big. Months ago, he and his lawyers rejected a plea bargain that would have spared him from prison, and prosecutors would have even helped him avoid deportation.
The most serious charges — two counts of bias intimidation based on sexual orientation — carry up to 10 years in prison each. But legal experts said the most Ravi would probably get all together at sentencing May 21 would be 10 years. The judge could also give him no prison time at all.
Prosecutors said they would consult with Clementi’s family and the other man in the video — identified as only as M.B. — before recommending a sentence.