Rutgers Roommate Spying Trial Heads To Jury

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A jury is to begin deliberations Wednesday in the trial of former Rutgers University student Dharun Ravi. He's charges with invasion of privacy, hindering a prosecution and bias intimidation, which is a hate crime. Ravi used a webcam to spy on his roommate having a same-sex encounter. The roommate later committed suicide.

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A jury is now deciding the case of a former Rutgers student accused of using a web cam to watch his roommate. This became a high profile case because Dharun Ravi watched his roommate having an encounter with another man. Days later, that roommate Tyler Clementi jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge.

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The case sparked a national conversation about bullying and suicide among gay teenagers. And the suspect is charged with invasion of privacy, hindering a prosecution, and bias intimidation, which is a hate crime. The facts in this trial have raised another question: where to draw the line between an act that is a hate crime and an act that's just stupid. Here's Nancy Solomon of New Jersey Public Radio.

NANCY SOLOMON, BYLINE: The case revolves around a series of tweets, texts and instant messages in which Dharun Ravi showed friends a webcam live stream of his roommate having an intimate encounter with another man. Two days later, he dared his Twitter followers to video chat him again to see a second liaison between Tyler Clementi and his date. Clementi saw the tweets, and the next day, committed suicide.

In his closing argument, defense attorney Steven Altman told the jury the prosecution had failed to prove Ravi acted out of hate toward gay people. He isn't a criminal, Altman says, just stupid.

STEVEN ALTMAN: An 18-year-old boy, a kid, had an encounter that he wasn't ready for, that he didn't expect, that he was surprised by. And he didn't know how to deal with, because he was kid.

SOLOMON: To end his summation, the defense attorney played a 52-minute video of a police interrogation of Ravi on the day after Clementi killed himself. That same video had been played to the jury last week by the prosecutor to end her case with a splash. It includes Ravi answering yes, when he is pressed, that he invaded Clementi's privacy. It also includes an exchange when Ravi says he sent out a tweet telling followers not to video chat when Clementi was having his date over. But he's confronted by the investigator, Michael Daniewicz, who reads a copy of an earlier tweet that Ravi deleted from his account.

MICHAEL DANIEWICZ: I dare you to video chat me between the hours of 9:30 and 12. Yes, it's happening again.

DHARUN RAVI: But obviously, I said that sarcastically, first of all. And second of all, I turned off my computer. I put it to sleep so they wouldn't be able to do anything.

SOLOMON: Prosecutor Julia McClure, in her closing, told the jury the texts, instant message chats and tweets speak for themselves. The most damning evidence, McClure says, is that computer records show Clementi visited Ravi's Twitter page 38 times in the last two days of his life.

JULIA MCCLURE: His sexual orientation has been broadcast to the defendant's twitter followers. He finds out that his private sexual activity has been exposed.

SOLOMON: Clementi's state of mind was a theme during the trial, with prosecutors showing a request for a dorm room change because he was so upset about having been watched. McClure also stressed Clementi's obsessive checking of Ravi's Twitter feed.

The state of mind of both roommates is key, because Ravi is charged with bias intimidation, a hate crime that is the most serious charge against him and carries a 10 year sentence. Now it's up to the jury, which begins deliberating today. They'll decide if Ravi acted out of hate, and whether he invaded Clementi's privacy because he wanted to target and intimidate him, specifically because of his sexual orientation.

For NPR News, I'm Nancy Solomon.

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