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Rutgers Cyberbullying Trial Begins in New Jersey
The former Rutgers student accused of spying on and bullying Tyler Clementi just before the gay teen committed suicide in September 2010 faces up to ten years in prison.
The trial of a former Rutgers student accused of spying on and bullying his roommate days before he killed himself began Friday in a New Jersey courtroom.
Dharun Ravi faces invasion of privacy and bias intimidation charges in the suicide of fellow freshman Tyler Clementi, the latter of which is classified as a hate crime and carries a maximum penalty of ten years in prison.
Clementi’s death garnered national attention and is credited with kick-starting the then-nascent “It Gets Better” anti-bullying video campaign launched in the fall of 2010 by syndicated sex columnist Dan Savage and his husband.
On Sept. 19, 2010, Ravi spied on Clementi’s intimate encounter with another man, using a webcam in his and Clementi’s dorm room to stream Apple iChat video to a computer in fellow student Molly Wei’s room down the hall. Ravi published what he’d seen on Twitter, outing the 18-year-old Clementi as gay. Two days later, the accused man tried to use the webcam to broadcast another encounter between Clementi and his partner over the Internet, but Clementi was able to stop it.
Clementi, a talented violin player who had only recently revealed to his parents that he was gay, jumped to his death from the George Washingon Bridge on Sept. 22, 2010.
On the first day of Ravi’s trial, prosecutors painted the defendant’s actions as intentional and designed to hurt Clementi, according to The New York Times.
“It was not an accident, not a mistake,” Middlesex Country prosecutor Julia McClure told the jury, according to the newspaper. “Those acts were meant to cross one of the most sacred boundaries of human privacy, engaging in private sexual human activity … [and] were planned to expose Tyler Clementi’s sexual orientation, and they were planned to expose Tyler Clementi’s private sexual activity.”
Ravi’s attorney Steven Altman painted a very different picture of what had transpired at the university just over 17 months ago.
“We do stupid things, we make mistakes, especially when we’re youngit doesn’t mean we’re hateful, we’re bigoted or we’re criminal,” the Times quoted Altman as saying in his opening statement. “In fact, Dharun never intimidated anyone. He never committed a crime, he never committed a hateful crime. He’s not homophobic. He’s not anti-gay.”
Altman also stressed that Ravi and Wei had only witnessed a few seconds of kissing between Clementi and his unnamed male partner.
Wei had originally also been set to stand trial in the case but the charges against her were dropped in exchange for her agreement to testify. The other man who was spied on may also testify in such as way as to protect his identify, according to the Times.
By Damon Poeter, PCMag