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Is a 10 year sentence appropriate in Rutgers suicide case?

March 5, 2012 - Andrea Johnson
It sure sounds like 20-year-old Dharun Ravi is a rat, but I'm not sure he deserves to go to prison for a decade.

Ravi is a former Rutgers University student accused of using a webcam to spy on his roommate's intimate encounter with another man. The roommate, 18-year-old Tyler Clementi, committed suicide by jumping off a bridge on September 22, 2010. Ravi is currently on trial in New Brunswick, N.J. for 15 criminal counts, including invasion of privacy, bias intimidation and several charges accusing him of trying to cover his tracks. Bias intimidation is a hate crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Prosecutors are trying to build the case that Ravi resented having a gay roommate, humiliated him and spied on him kissing the other man with a web cam and tried to set up a camera to view Clementi's bed on a night his roommate had requested privacy in the room for an encounter. Witnesses testified that Ravi invited friends to watch it during an online "viewing party." However, witnesses have testified at the trial that the web cam wasn't working that night and no one ever actually saw Clementi and his partner. Ravi and his friend saw a few seconds of footage showing Clementi and his partner kissing with their shirts off, but turned off the camera before they saw anything else. The camera might have been set up originally as a security measure to catch anyone who might steal things from the room. Other witnesses have testified that Ravi knew Clementi was gay and didn't have a problem with it. Clementi had complained about Ravi to the college and had asked to switch roommates, but killed himself not long after.

I've wondered if there might be a possibility that Ravi simply didn't like Clementi, resented having to give up his room for an evening and, like many an immature teenager, engaged in bullying behavior with his friends. Would he have actually gone through with his "viewing party" or was it just big talk? Ravi probably deserved to be disciplined by the college and maybe even put on suspension and perhaps face charges in court, but does he deserve 10 years in prison?

Ravi isn't charged with Clementi's death and prosecutors are precluded from linking the suicide to Ravi's actions, just as the defense is precluded from arguing that Clementi killed himself for other reasons. There seems little doubt that Ravi is being tried indirectly for that death, though, and that charges might not have been as serious without Clementi's suicide.

Clementi's suicide is a tragedy and the bullying faced by young gays is horrible, but I don't think Ravi is directly responsible or that his actions would have been enough to make someone suicidal. I hope the verdict, whatever it is, is a just one.


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