Ex-Student Wants Hate Crime Convictions Dismissed
A former Rutgers University student who was found guilty of hate crimes for using a webcam to view his roommate kissing another man has asked a judge to overturn the jury’s conviction.
In a legal filing Tuesday, Dharun Ravi’s lawyers said the jury convicted him in March despite evidence that he was not guilty of invading the privacy or intimidating roommate Tyler Clementi, who killed himself days after the webcam was used.
And on the most disputed and serious charges - bias intimidation - the lawyers say the law was misused. On some of those counts, the jury found that Ravi did not mean to intimidate Clementi or the other man, but that Clementi reasonably believed he did. Jurors said as much both in their findings in court and in comments afterward to journalists. Copies of some news articles were included with the brief to support Ravi’s lawyers’ position.
"To criminalize a defendant for a victim’s mistaken belief about the defendant’s motive would turn the bias intimidation statute into a mockery of itself," wrote the lawyers, Steven Altman and Philip Nettl. It is standard practice for lawyers to ask for a judge to overturn a conviction after a jury delivers it. In Ravi’s case, the request is for the judge to acquit Ravi entirely - or at least grant him a new trial.
The lawyers said that the jury was wrong on invasion of privacy charges because the snippets video that Ravi and others saw did not show sexual acts or nudity.
Prosecutors had no immediate comment on the court filing. But they’re sure to have more to say in coming weeks as they file papers to recommend a sentence for Ravi.
He could face 10 years in prison when he’s sentenced on May 21. And because he’s a citizen of India, where he was born, Ravi could also be deported eventually because of the conviction.
The case has enflamed passions.
Almost immediately after his suicide in September 2010, Clementi came to be seen as a symbol of the bullying young gays can face. President Barack Obama spoke out about the case and talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres made it a key cause of hers.
Some have come to see Ravi as a victim of an overzealous legal system, a man convicted not so much for what he did but what happened afterward. Last month, former Gov. Jim McGreevey, who left office in 2004 after announcing he was gay, wrote an opinion piece in The Star-Ledger newspaper arguing against a prison sentence for him.
While there is much dispute in court and elsewhere about how the law should be applied in the case, there is little disagreement over the facts.
Jurors heard that Clementi and Ravi, both 18-year-old freshmen from well-off New Jersey suburbs who were assigned at random to be roommates, did not speak much.
A few weeks into the school year, Clementi asked Ravi for the room when he was planning to have over a man he’d met online. Jurors heard that Ravi was nervous about the iPad he’d left in their room and wondered what was going on, so he and a friend turned on his webcam and saw seconds of, as Ravi described in a tweet, his roommate "making out with a dude."
Two nights later, when Clementi asked for privacy again, Ravi obliged. This time, he told friends through text messages, tweets and in-person conversations how they could connect with his webcam to see what happened between Clementi and his guest, who testified at the trial but was only identified by the initials M.B. because he’s considered the victim of a sex crime.
But the webcam was off that night.
By the time of that second rendezvous, Clementi had learned that Ravi had watched him and he initiated a request for a room change.
The next night, Clementi, a violinist, made his way to the George Washington Bridge and jumped to his death, leaving behind a final Facebook status: "jumping off the GW bridge, sorry."
Jurors found Ravi guilty of all 15 counts he faced, including bias intimidation, invasion of privacy and tampering with evidence and a witness to try to cover up the other crimes.