Closing arguments underway in Rutgers roommate-spying trial
(CNN) — Closing arguments began Tuesday in the trial of a former Rutgers student accused of spying on and intimidating his gay roommate, who later killed himself by jumping off New York’s George Washington Bridge.
On Monday, the defense rested without the defendant, Dharun Ravi, testifying on his own behalf.
With the prosecution declining to offer a rebuttal and the jury heading home for the day, closing arguments from both sides got underway Tuesday.
After those, the jury will consider 15 counts against Ravi, including bias intimidation, invasion of privacy, tampering with physical evidence, witness tampering and hindering apprehension or prosecution.
The case caught national attention in 2010 after the suicide of Ravi’s roommate, Tyler Clementi. His death stirred discussion about bullying, with President Barack Obama releasing a videotaped message less than a month later condemning such treatment.
Ravi and fellow student Molly Wei — who admitted joining Ravi to watch a surreptitious webcam encounter involving Clementi and another man in September 2010 — were charged in the wake of Clementi’s death.
Facing two counts of invasion of privacy, Wei reached a plea deal in May 2011 that required her to testify against her friend and former high school classmate, as well as to complete a three-year program on cyberbullying and do 300 hours of community service.
But Ravi, now 20, turned down a plea deal offered by Middlesex County prosecutors that would have let him avoid jail time in exchange for undergoing counseling, doing 600 hours of community service and disposing of any information that could identify the man who appeared in the web video with Clementi.
Prosecutors also offered to help Ravi avoid deportation, though they said they could not guarantee it. Ravi is a citizen of India who had been studying on a visa at the New Jersey university.
If convicted on all counts after the more than two-week trial, Ravi could be sentenced to 10 years in prison.
During the prosecution’s phase of the trial, the man that Clementi was intimate with told jurors that he had noticed a web camera aimed at Clementi’s bed.
The 32-year-old man, identified only as M.B., testified that he first met Clementi on an Internet social networking site for gay men and that they eventually met in the student’s dorm room three times. The two conversed online, exchanged text messages and later had sex.
Wei testified that she watched a sexual liaison involving M.B. and Clementi with Ravi, who had secretly set up the webcam in his and Clementi’s room.
Ravi’s lawyer, Steven Altman, has argued that his client had switched on the webcam to monitor his personal items because he did not trust his roommate’s visitor, not necessarily because Clementi was gay.
In Twitter messages from that day, Ravi wrote that he’d gone into a friend’s room, “turned on my webcam” and saw his roommate “making out with a dude.”
Michelle Huang testified that, two days later, Ravi sent out another message telling his Twitter followers — of which Huang was one — “I dare you to videochat me between the hours of 9:30 and 12. Yes, it’s happening again.”
Huang, Ravi’s friend from high school, said Ravi explained that day in a text to her that he’d set his “computer to alert (him) if anyone is in (the room) when I’m not there.” Specifically, Ravi wrote that it “checks” his bed.
Ravi said that he was “creeped out” by the September 19 romantic encounter between Clementi and the other man.
“Keep the gays away,” he wrote, according to a text message that was shown on a screen in the courtroom.
Huang said it was her understanding that Ravi planned to broadcast another liaison, without Clementi’s knowledge, for others to see.
“Mad people are going to do it,” he texted her, using slang to suggest large numbers planned to watch. “People are having a viewing party with a bottle of Bacardi and beer in this kids room for my roommate.”
That “viewing party” never happened, Ravi wrote in a subsequent text exchange.
Yet on September 22, 2010, Clementi took a train to New York and posted a mobile status update on his Facebook page that read, “Jumping off the gw bridge sorry,” before killing himself.
During her testimony, Wei said she was surprised to learn that Ravi had talked about and taken to Twitter to hype the webcam scheme and to essentially advertise that others could watch an upcoming liaison.
“I was very surprised because my friends brought it up, and I had no idea how they knew, but they said that Dharun had told them. … They told me about these Twitter, tweets, that they received on Tuesday about him trying to have a viewing party,” she said.
Later in the trial, two family friends of Ravi testified that they’d never heard the defendant make derogatory remarks about gay people.
They also said, however, that they never had occasion to discuss the subject with him.
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