Local/State

Jury to get case in Rutgers webcam spying trial

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A former Rutgers University student accused of using a webcam to spy on his roommate's intimate encounter with another man is a kid, not a criminal, his lawyer said Tuesday in closing arguments before stopping abruptly.

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Jurors will begin deliberating Wednesday whether Dharun Ravi committed a crime when he viewed a few seconds of his roommate's encounter, showed it to other people and texted and tweeted about it. His roommate, Tyler Clementi, committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge days after the 2010 encounter was made public.

Lawyers gave summations Tuesday in a case that focused attention on Internet privacy and gay bullying after a 13-day trial focusing on a few days in the Rutgers dorm where Ravi and Clementi, 18-year-olds from well-off New Jersey suburbs, were randomly assigned to be freshman roommates.

Defense attorney Steven Altman told jurors that Ravi was a "kid" who didn't have "ugliness" in his heart when he turned on his webcam and saw Clementi kissing another man.

"If there's hate in Dharun's heart, if there's ugliness in Dharun's heart," Altman asked jurors, "where's there some information and some evidence to support it?"

But Middlesex County assistant prosecutor Julia McClure countered "there wasn't one thing about the defendant's actions that were good-natured."

Altman, in a three-hour summation that was delayed after he got sick in the middle of it, described how Ravi saw the image of Clementi from his webcam on the computer of another student, stressing that there was no recording, broadcast or YouTube video transmitted of the Sept. 19, 2010, encounter.

Altman said Ravi tweeted and talked about what he saw but was only doing so because he was young, had never before seen men kissing and did not know what to do. And he'd turned on the webcam in the first place, Altman said, because he was worried about what was happening in his room after seeing Clementi's guest, whom Ravi described as "older" and "sketchy." His client, Altman said, was concerned about whether the stranger might take the iPad he'd left in the room.

That's a characterization McClure disputed. She reminded jurors of testimony from some of Ravi's high school friends that even before Ravi moved into the dorm he was concerned about having a gay roommate.

"He was so shocked that within about four minutes, he sent out a tweet, because he was seeking advice?" McClure asked.

And, she said, there was evidence that he then told other students about what he'd seen and invited them to a friend's room where they could see for themselves.

Some testified that they did view a few more seconds of the stream - this time seeing Clementi and his guest, a 32-year-old man who was identified in court only by the initials M.B., shirtless and kissing - but no one said that Ravi saw those images.

Two nights later, Clementi asked for the room alone again.

McClure told jurors that within minutes of that request, Ravi sent a tweet "daring" friends to connect to his computer by video chat.

Altman, in his summation, noted that none of Ravi's roughly 150 Twitter followers seemed to take action after seeing his tweets.

"Not one attempt to see anything. What does it tell you?" Altman asked. "Nobody cares, and nobody's taking it very seriously."

He suggested that if Clementi were truly intimidated, he would not have had M.B. over that night.

But McClure said Clementi took the Twitter postings seriously, going to a resident assistant and saving copies of Ravi's tweets after learning about them.

Two students testified that Ravi showed them how to view the web stream. But there was evidence that his computer was offline by the time Clementi and M.B. were in the room.

Ravi told police in a statement that he had shut it down so no one could view what was happening.

But McClure told jurors that's impossible. She said it went offline after Ravi left for Ultimate Frisbee practice and was running again by the time he returned. It was Clementi, she said, who unplugged the computer.

"His intent was targeted, and it was targeted at Tyler," she said, as Ravi, 20, stoically looked forward. "And it was targeted at Tyler because of Tyler's sexual orientation."

The challenge for jurors could be deciding whether the laws apply to what Ravi is alleged to have done.

Ravi faces 15 charges. Four are invasion of privacy and attempted invasion of privacy charges. Four allege bias intimidation.

Ravi can be convicted of intimidation if he's also found guilty of an underlying invasion-of-privacy charge. Two of those charges are second-degree crimes punishable by up to 10 years in prison, the most significant penalties he faces if convicted.

Seven charges accuse Ravi of trying to cover his tracks. Among the allegations: that he deleted and changed Twitter postings and text messages and told a witness what to say.

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new jersey, rutgers university, suicide, local/state
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