NEW BRUNSWICK, New Jersey (Reuters) - A former Rutgers University student, Dharun Ravi, who used a webcam to spy on his roommate’s sexual encounter with another man and invited others to watch in a “viewing party” was simply engaging in the behavior of “a typical 18-year-old kid” and should not be punished for a hate crime, his lawyer said on Tuesday.
The roommate at the New Jersey university, Tyler Clementi, jumped to his death on September 22, 2010 from a bridge, just two days after Ravi posted on his Twitter account that he had used the webcam to view Clementi “making out with a dude.”
Ravi, now 20, is not charged in Clementi’s death -- which drew national attention to the issue of gay bullying -- but he is charged with 15 counts of invasion of privacy, witness and evidence tampering and bias intimidation, which is a hate crime.
Ravi’s defense lawyer, Steven Altman, said in his closing arguments that his client had no bias against gays but had simply and childishly decided to use the webcam to covertly watch Clementi’s tryst with an older man.
“Why we’re here is because, on September 19 and September 21 of 2010, an 18-year-old boy, a kid, a college freshman, had an experience, had an encounter and he wasn’t ready for, that he didn’t expect, that he was surprised by, that he hadn’t anticipated ...,” Altman told the jury.
Ravi faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of the most serious charges.
His defense focused in part on the older man, known only as M.B., who was among the two dozen witnesses to testify for the prosecution in the three-week trial in a New Jersey Court. The defense called nine witnesses.
The man, then 30, met Clementi online and they had three encounters in September 2010 in the cramped freshman dorm room - on Thursday the 16th, Sunday the 19th and Tuesday the 21st.
It was the man’s “scruffy and homeless-looking” appearance rather than his sexual orientation that raised Ravi’s suspicions and prompted him to use the webcam to watch his belongings when Clementi, seeking privacy, asked him on Sunday if he could leave the room, Altman said.
Ravi viewed his room from the computer of a friend, Molly Wei, the lawyer said. Proof of his intention is in the brevity of the seconds-long video-stream which was ended as soon as Ravi and Wei saw the two men kissing, Altman said.
Ravi later wrote on his Twitter page: “Saw my roommate making out with a dude. Yay.”
He returned to Twitter on Tuesday, when Clementi asked for the room again for an encounter with M.B., and dared friends to join a “viewing party” by accessing the webcam.
In actuality, Ravi and Clementi separately disabled Ravi’s computer and no video footage was seen that evening.
Both Tweets were meant as jokes by an awkward freshman trying to be cool, Altman told the jury. “It was Dharun being smart, being cute, trying to be funny,” the lawyer said.
Although Ravi has lived nearly his entire life in the United States, he is not a citizen, and could be deported back to his native India.
Editing by Paul Thomasch and Christopher Wilson