Nancy Solomon, Managing Editor, New Jersey Public Radio
Nancy Solomon is the Managing Editor of New Jersey Public Radio.
Jurors will begin deliberations Wednesday in the case of a former Rutgers University student accused of using a webcam to spy on his roommate's intimate encounter with another man.
Prosecutor Julia McClure told jurors Tuesday that Dharun Ravi told friends his roommate was gay almost as soon as he learned who his roommate would be.
The defense finished its closing arguments Tuesday afternoon after showing jurors a nearly hour-long video interview between police and Ravi. The statement Ravi gave a detective on Sept. 23, 2010, was previously shown by prosecutors.
Ravi faces 15 criminal counts, including invasion of privacy and bias intimidation. His roommate, Tyler Clementi, committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge in September 2010, days after the alleged spying.
The judge is expected to give his instructions to the jury Wednesday morning before they can begin deliberations.
Defense attorney Steven Altman said Ravi was surprised to turn on his webcam and see his roommate in an intimate situation with another man. He emphasized that there was no recording, no broadcast and no YouTube video of the encounter.
The defense contends the first webcam viewing was not meant to invade Clementi’s privacy, but was set up to see what was going on in the room, which Ravi said he was shut out of.
“An 18-year-old boy, a kid, had an experience, an encounter that he doesn’t expect and didn’t know how to deal with,” Altman told the jury.
He added, “Who wouldn’t be curious? It’s your room.”
He also noted that Ravi had 45 minutes to spy on Clementi the second time, but didn't bother: "He didn't care," he said.
Ravi did not take the stand during the trial. Jurors heard about 30 witnesses over 12 days of testimony in the trial.
There's no dispute that Ravi saw a brief snippet of video streamed live from his webcam to the laptop of a friend in her dorm room on Sept. 19, 2010.
The friend, Molly Wei, said Clementi and his guest - identified in the trial only by the initials M.B. - were fully clothed and kissing at the time.
Ravi posted a Twitter message that night that concluded: "I saw him making out with a dude. Yay."
Later, Wei showed some other students. They said the men had removed their shirts, and that the webstream was turned off after mere seconds. Wei was initially charged, but later entered a pretrial intervention program that could allow her to avoid jail time and a criminal record if she complies with a list of conditions.
Two days after the first incident, Clementi asked for the room alone again.
This time, Ravi tweeted: "Yes, it's happening again" and "dared" followers to connect with his computer to video chat. There was testimony that he told one friend that there was going to be a "viewing party" at Rutgers.
But there was no webcast. Ravi's lawyers say it's because he disabled his computer before Clementi had M.B. over. And witnesses placed Ravi at Ultimate Frisbee practice for most of the time he was asked to stay away from his room.
Judge Glenn Berman said Monday that some of the charges are difficult because they have not been frequently tested by higher courts.
After jurors left for the day, Berman made rulings on the instructions he will give them. But he wasn't fully confident that an appeals court would not view things differently, especially regarding the bias intimidation law. "I could be wrong," he told lawyers. "I said this statue to me is muddled. It could be written better."
The challenge for jurors could be deciding whether the laws apply to what Ravi is alleged to have done.
One of the invasion-of-privacy charges accuses Ravi of viewing exposed private parts or sex acts - or a situation where someone might reasonably expect to see them.
Another accuses him of recording or disseminating the images to others. There's no evidence that the webstream was recorded, and witnesses said Ravi wasn't there when Wei opened the webstream for other students.
The bias intimidation charges could also be complicated. Ravi can be convicted of intimidation if he's also found guilty of an underlying invasion-or-privacy charge. Two of the four charges of that crime are second-degree crimes punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Each of those charges says Ravi committed invasion of privacy - or attempted to - out of malice toward gays - or that Clementi believed he was targeted because of his sexuality.