A New Jersey judge today handed down a sentence of 30 days in jail for the former Rutgers University student convicted of committing a bias crime for using a webcam to spy on a dorm room tryst between his gay roommate Tyler Clementi and Clementi’s boyfriend.
Clementi took his own life days later by jumping off the George Washington Bridge in September 2010, creating an uproar among gay activists and attracting international media attention over the issue of anti-gay bullying and harassment.
Some claimed the action by defendant Dharun Ravi, 20, was responsible for Clementi’s suicide. But Ravi’s attorney argued during the trial in March and Middlesex County, N.J., Superior Court Judge Glenn Berman said in court on Monday that Ravi should not be held responsible for Clementi’s death.
“I do not believe he hated Tyler Clementi,” Berman said in explaining his sentence. “He had no reason to, but I do believe he acted out of colossal insensitivity.”
Berman said the bias crime to which Ravi was convicted is not the same as a hate crime. He called the sentence he imposed “measured” and “balanced.”
He said he will recommend to U.S. immigration authorities that Ravi not be deported upon the completion of his jail sentence, but said immigration officials rather than he would make the final decision on that issue.
Ravi, who was born in India, came to the U.S. as a child. His mother told the court he no longer speaks his native language and was raised as an American. Ravi obtained permanent resident status but is not a U.S. citizen. Under U.S. immigration law, he is subject to deportation for a felony conviction.
A jury convicted Ravi on several felony counts, including invasion of privacy, bias intimidation, witness tampering and hindering efforts by police to investigate the case. He faced a possible sentence of 10 years in prison.
Middlesex County prosecutor Julia McClure told the judge Ravi “has shown no remorse” since his conviction. She said all of Ravi’s actions toward Clementi “were planned, they were purposeful and they were malicious,” disputing claims by the defense that Ravi had merely committed a youthful “prank.”
In addition to 30 days in a county jail, Berman sentenced Ravi to three years of probation, 300 hours of community service, and a total of $11,900 in fines and assessments. He also ordered Ravi to undergo counseling for cyber bullying and education on “alternate lifestyles.”
The sentence came at the end of a two-hour hearing that included emotional statements from Clementi’s mother, father, and brother and both parents of Ravi, all of whom struggled to hold back tears.
Jane Clementi, Tyler’s mother, told the court Ravi appeared uninterested in becoming friends with her son from the time she met him when she and her husband helped Tyler move into his Rutgers dorm room. She said she believed Ravi chose not to be more welcoming to her son in the ensuing weeks because he learned her son was gay.
Ravi’s mother told the judge her son isn’t a hater and “has never hated anyone,” saying he has suffered immensely in the time since his 2010 arrest in connection with the case. As she finished speaking she embraced her son, who was sitting at the defendant’s table as both wept.
In the months leading up to Monday’s sentencing hearing, some gay activists and gay bloggers joined Indian-American groups in speaking out for leniency for Ravi, saying a sentence as long as 10 years would be an injustice.
New York gay attorney Bill Dobbs, who has argued that hate crimes laws violate First Amendment rights of free speech, was among those who called for a less severe sentence for Ravi.
Berman’s sentence of 30 days came as a surprise to some court observers, who noted that the judge spoke harshly of Ravi’s action in a statement immediately prior to delivering the sentence. Berman also pointed out that Ravi remained seated as he began issuing the sentence rather than stand, which is the normal practice in sentencing hearings. Ravi’s attorney rose to his feet, saying it was he who failed to remind Ravi to stand and it was he who should be blamed for the defendant remaining seated.
Those calling for a lenient sentence for Ravi have noted that his webcam spying on Clementi, which resulted in his arrest, has been incorrectly reported by many media outlets, including network TV news programs and bloggers.
“It became widely understood that a closeted student at Rutgers had committed suicide after video of him having sex with a man was secretly shot and posted online,” New Yorker magazine reported earlier this year. “In fact, there was no posting, no observed sex, and no closet,” the magazine reported in a lengthy piece on the case.
The New Yorker and other media outlets later reported that the webcam, which was viewed only by Ravi and some of his friends, showed Clementi and his boyfriend kissing.
Since the time of the incident, news surfaced that Clementi was out to his parents and his gay brother, James Clementi. Prosecutors at the trial presented evidence that Ravi nevertheless subjected Clementi to an illegal invasion of privacy that was motivated by bias based on Clementi’s sexual orientation.
Evidence presented at trial, including records of Ravi’s computer messages and Twitter postings, showed that he observed on the webcam Clementi “making out with a dude.” He then reported what he saw in Twitter messages. According to prosecutors, Ravi placed his webcam in the room to spy on Clementi two days later and invited others to watch. This time, Clementi, who already had seen Revi’s Twitter postings, turned off the webcam.
Additional evidence showed that Clementi reported the incident to a dormitory official, requested a change of room, and viewed Ravi’s Twitter feeds about the incident a total of 38 times, prosecutors said.
Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou
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