On Wednesday, April 20, a New Jersey grand jury indicted Rutgers University student, Dharun Ravi, on hate crime charges. Last September, Ravi used a webcam he installed in the dorm room he shared with Tyler Clementi to stream live video of a romantic encounter between Clementi and another man. When faced with what his roommate had done, Clementi, an aspiring violinist from Ridgewood, N.J., committed suicide by jumping from the George Washington Bridge on Sept. 22.
Initially, Ravi and another student were charged with invasion of privacy. The new indictment of acting with anti-gay motives potentially exposes Ravi to at least five to 10 years in prison, if convicted. The earlier charge would have probably delivered only probation. Ravi is also charged with a cover-up for removing a second Twitter post alerting his followers to watch a second encounter between Clementi and a man. He replaced it with a post prosecutors said was “intended to mislead the investigation.” He also tried to persuade witnesses to not testify. Ravi’s initial Twitter message about the first encounter read: “Roommate asked for the room till midnight. I went into molly’s room and turned on my webcam. I
saw him making out with a dude. Yay.” Mr. Ravi’s co-defendant, Molly Wei, who lived in the same dormitory and was also charged with invasion of privacy, was not indicted. The prosecutor, Bruce J. Kaplan, said in a statement that the case against her remained active but would not be presented to a grand jury “at this time,” suggesting that she could testify against Mr. Ravi.
The case sparked equal outrage from public and private sectors. New Jersey legislators have since enacted the nation’s toughest law against bullying. President Obama spoke out about the tragedy as did talk show host Ellen DeGeneres. This case is being closely watched by legal scholars and would have ripple effects with hate-crime prosecutions. “Charging this as a bias crime may send a message to prosecutors who are dealing with similar cases in other states about the particularly damaging consequences of this kind of crime,” said Suzanne B. Goldberg, director of the Columbia Law School Center for Gender and Sexuality Law.
Ravi remains free on $25,000 bail. –a. robinson