Former Rutgers student Dharun Ravi could face more than 10 years in prison following his conviction Friday for hate crimes, invasion of privacy, tampering with evidence, and a host of other charges related to his spying on his gay college roommate, Tyler Clementi, whose subsequent suicide sparked a national debate on bullying of gay youth.
Ravi, 20, could also face deportation to his native India when he is sentenced in May.
Ravi sat silently, his face betraying little emotion, as the word “guilty” sounded throughout a New Jersey courtroom. He faced 15 counts in the case, which made national news in September 2010 after Clementi, who was 18, hurled himself from the George Washington Bridge in the New York City area after learning that Ravi had set up a webcam in their dorm room and captured him in an intimate encounter with a date.
As court adjourned, Ravi’s mother cast him a long, lingering look while she filed out of the room with other spectators.
After about 12 hours of deliberations spread over three days, the jury came back with a mixed verdict, and Ravi was acquitted of some counts. But he was convicted of most, including witness tampering, invasion of privacy, tampering of evidence, and hindering apprehension or prosecution. Most damning for the defense, the jury also found that Ravi was motivated by a desire to target Clementi because of his sexual orientation – a hate crime known as bias intimidation that carries at least a 10-year prison term.
That finding meant the jury was not convinced by defense claims that Ravi harbored no ill feelings toward Clementi because of his sexual orientation. Ravi did not testify, but defense witnesses said he never showed anti-gay feelings and only set up the secret webcam so he could keep an eye on his belongings when Clementi was in the dorm room with another man.
But one of those witnesses also testified that he had helped Ravi adjust the webcam to focus on Clementi’s bed – not on the side of the room where Ravi’s valuables were kept.
Clementi learned of the webcam, and that other Rutgers students had seen portions of the video. A few days later he killed himself after updating his Facebook status to read: "Jumping off the gw bridge, sorry."
Ravi had pleaded innocent to all charges. The defense had argued that his spying on Clementi was a youthful error in judgment, not a mean-spirited attempt to demean his gay roommate.
Ravi never was directly charged in Clementi’s death. But after news of the spying emerged, his actions become symbolic of the struggle that many young gay men and women face as they try to fit in among other students. It drew the attention of President Obama, talk show host Ellen DeGeneres and New Jersey lawmakers, who drew up anti-bullying legislation as a result of it.
Rutgers University also changed its student housing policies to try to better accommodate gay students after Clementi’s death.
One of the witnesses in the case was a Rutgers student housing aide who testified that Clementi had asked for a new roommate shortly before he killed himself, because he felt uncomfortable with Ravi after learning that Ravi had spied on him.