NEW BRUNSWICK, New Jersey (Reuters) - A former Rutgers University student was sentenced on Monday to 30 days in jail for a bias crime after he spied on his roommate’s gay encounter in a case that drew national attention to bullying.
Dharun Ravi, 20, had faced a possible maximum sentence of 10 years behind bars for using a webcam to invade the privacy of his roommate, Tyler Clementi, and an older man in their college dorm room.
Clementi, 18, jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge in September 2010, days after learning Ravi watched them through the computer-mounted camera and used social media to encourage others to do so. Ravi was not charged with causing Clementi’s death.
In handing down the relatively light sentence, Judge Glenn Berman emphasized that he never referred to Ravi’s action as a hate crime - a term commonly used to describe bias intimidation laws - but rather as a bias crime.
“I don’t believe he hated Tyler Clementi. He had no reason to. But I do believe he acted out of colossal insensitivity,” Berman said.
The judge then sentenced Ravi to 30 days in jail, followed by three years probation, 300 hours of community service as well as counseling about cyberbullying and alternative lifestyles.
He ordered Ravi to pay $10,000 for a community-based organization that assists victims of bias crimes and to pay $1,900 in penalties.
“I heard this jury say ‘guilty’ 288 times. Twenty-four questions, 12 jurors. That’s the multiplication. I haven’t heard you apologize once,” Berman told Ravi.
The judge also pledged to recommend that Ravi, who was born in India and grew up in the United States, not be deported. A similar recommendation was made by the older man, identified only as M.B., in a letter his lawyer read in court before sentence was imposed.
Berman said the jail time was punishment, in part, for Ravi’s efforts to get others to watch a second planned attempt to use the webcam, considered a bias crime, and for evidence tampering for destroying text messages.
Prosecutors said they would the sentence, which would otherwise begin on May 31.
Even though prosecutors did not seek the maximum sentence “it was expected that his conviction on multiple offenses of invading the privacy of two victims on two separate occasions, four counts of bias intimidation against Tyler Clementi, and the coverup of those crimes, would warrant more than a 30-day jail term,” Middlesex County Prosecutor Bruce J. Kaplan said in a statement.
As he listened to the judge, Ravi sat wide-eyed, far more stoic than moments earlier when he sobbed as his crying mother begged the court for leniency for her son.
“Dharun’s dreams are shattered and he has been living in hell for the past 20 months,” she told the judge.
She spoke a few moments after Clementi’s mother, both of them recalling meeting in the dorm room on the first day of college, each remembering the other’s son as somewhat standoffish.
Through her tears, Jane Clementi urged the judge to “do the right thing” and punish Ravi for his actions to show the world how wrong they were. She was stunned that even after Clementi requested a roommate change upon learning of the spying, no one came to his defense.
“Why didn’t any of them speak up and stop it? How did it spiral so out of control? They knew it was wrong, yet no one stopped, no one stood up to the mastermind, the ‘computer genius’,” she said.
After the sentencing, the Clementis, who had earlier planned to make a statement to the media, and the Ravis rushed in separate directions from the courthouse without comment.
The verdict prompted a mixed reaction from gay advocates, some of whom thought Ravi was being unfairly punished for Clementi’s suicide and should not be jailed. One who called for leniency was gay rights activist Bill Dobbs, who described the short sentence as a “relief.”
“The judge went a long way to take the pressure off an out-of-control prosecution,” Dobbs said.
But Garden State Equality CEO Steven Goldstein, who wanted Ravi to serve jail time, said it was far too short. “This was not merely a childhood prank gone awry. This was not a crime without bias,” Goldstein said in a statement.
New Jersey State Senator Joe Vitale, who sponsored the bias crime legislation, backed the sentence.
“Mr. Ravi intended to intimidate and humiliate Tyler based on his sexual orientation. I think the sentence was altogether appropriate,” Vitale, a Democrat, said in a statement.
Additional reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing By Barbara Goldberg and Cynthia Osterman