Testimony Complete in Rutgers Webcam Spying Case
In a follow up to our post on March 2, 2012 “Rutgers Dorm Spying Trial Begins”, testimony in the case against 20 year old student Dharun Ravi ended on March 12, 2012 without Ravi taking the stand. The case involves Ravi spying on his Rutgers roommate Tyler Clementi with a webcam on September 19, 2010 and then trying to do the same on September 21st in order to capture Clementi in a sexual encounter with a male friend. A day later, Clementi committed suicide by jumping off of the George Washington Bridge, although the specific reasons for his suicide have never been made public by the family (a note was left) and Ravi is not charged with Mr. Clementi’s death.
Ravi was charged with invasion of privacy, attempted invasion of privacy, witness tampering, tampering with evidence, hindering apprehension, and the most serious charges, bias intimidation as a hate crime. This latter charge has garnered the case international attention due to the prevalence of bullying and “cyber bullying” in the news. The bias intimidation charges, which are premised on the claim that Ravi set up the webcam because he hated gays and was trying to intimidate Clementi due to his sexual preference, carries with it a ten year maximum sentence as well as the possibility of Ravi’s removal (formerly known as deportation) from the United States as he is not a U.S. citizen. The defense has refuted the bias intimidation charges with evidence that Ravi never expressed a dislike of gay people to any of his friends or classmates, and allegedly told friends he liked Clementi.
Based on witness accounts of the evidence at the trial, this is an assessment of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the prosecution's case and the likelihood of a conviction on each of the charges.
Invasion of privacy: This charge arises from Ravi’s setting up the webcam in the room that he and Clementi shared to observe the sexual encounter between Clementi and his male friend. The evidence on this charge appears to be strong as numerous witnesses have confirmed that this occurred, including testimony from the male friend identified only as “MB.”
Attempted invasion of privacy: This charge results from the effort by Ravi two days after the original videotaping to record Clementi again. Apparently, Mr. Clementi was aware of the camera by this time, and either he disabled the webcam or it malfunctioned, since no video was obtained. However, there was testimony from a friend of Ravi’s, Lokesh Ojha, who admitted assisting Ravi in positioning the camera so that it was pointed at Clementi’s bed. The evidence seems strong on this count, increasing the likelihood of a conviction.
Tampering with physical evidence: This charge is based on the deleting of a tweet that Ravi initially sent to his friend Molly Wei (who testified in the case under a deal with prosecutors for a lighter sentence). Wei viewed the original video with Ravi on September 19th and is a critical witness in several counts of the prosecution's case. This also appears to be a strong count for the prosecution.
Hindering apprehension of prosecution: These charges arise from Molly Wei’s testimony that Ravi instructed her to tell the police that the taping was a “prank” and that they did not intend to spy on anyone. This is another charge which if Ravi was convicted of, he could serve jail time of 5-10 years. However, apparently the judge indicated before the trial that he would be lenient on sentencing if there is a conviction on this charge.
Witness tampering: This charge also relates to communications that Ravi had with Molly Wei when she was being questioned by police. He sent her a message stating: “Did you tell them we did it on purpose…because I said we were just messing around with the camera…He told me that he wanted to have a friend over and I didn't realize they wanted to be all private.” This also would seem to be a solid charge for the prosecution.
Bias intimidation: This is the primary part of the State’s case, that Ravi meant to intimidate Clementi and his friend because they were gay. The prosecution has offered evidence to establish Ravi’s negative feelings toward gay people including computer messages from Ravi as follows: “We have to keep the gays out…[I saw] Clementi making out with a dude…Ew.” To counter these charges, the defense has noted that even the prosecution's witnesses indicated that Ravi never expressed animosity towards homosexuals and told some of his friends that he liked his roommate. Thus, it may be a very hard sell to make to the jury, and particularly with the harshness of the outcome of a guilty verdict on this charge, including a possible ten year sentence and removal from the United States, it is unclear if the jury will convict on this charge.
It is likely that the jury will reach a verdict this week and we will report further after this very interesting and potentially trend setting case is decided.