Dharun Ravi, convicted on 15 counts in 2012 for offenses relating to webcamming his Rutgers roommate Tyler Clementi in an intimate encounter with another man, is seeking to have his case retried.
Clementi committed suicide by jumping from the George Washington Bridge on Sept. 22, 2010, having discovered Ravi’s webcam surveillance, and having read comments by Ravi and others about him online.
Stephen Altman, Ravi’s lawyer, revealed Ravi’s desire for a fresh trial after Clementi’s mother, Jane, in a moving interview in The Daily Beast yesterday, said she would not want New Jersey’s appellate court to reduce or strike down Ravi’s original conviction.
The appellate court in New Jersey is considering appeals from both Ravi’s defense team and the state prosecutor, who is seeking a more severe sentence than the original 30-day jail sentence that was imposed on Ravi.
Before the sentence—of which Ravi only served 20 days, with time off for good behavior—the state had called for five years behind bars. Before that, there had been talk of a 10-year sentence.
Although Ravi was charged with “bias intimidation,” which puts Clementi’s sexuality at the heart of the case, Ravi himself denied being homophobic or motivated by homophobia, even though he surreptitiously set up a webcam to stream Clementi’s two encounters with another man, known in court as M.B.
Before moving in with Clementi to their Rutgers room, Ravi had discovered Clementi was gay, and shared his apparent shock and queasiness with friends online.
When he set up the webcam to observe Clementi, he encouraged others to watch what happened.
Having discovered Ravi’s webcam plan, Clementi had asked Rutgers to be moved from the room and for Ravi to be punished.
Before committing suicide, Clementi, 18, had logged onto his computer multiple times to read the various comments of Ravi and others around the webcam surveillance of his private activities.
His last message, posted to Facebook, was: “Jumping off the gw bridge sorry.”
The subsequent trial focused attention on issues such as anti-gay bullying and LGBT teen suicide, and there was debate about whether Ravi was being punished too much or too little, and what the nature and gravity of his crime—and its effects on Clementi’s state of mind—were.
In March of this year, Ravi’s lawyers welcomed the New Jersey Supreme Court’s decision to strike down an element of the state’s “bias intimidation” law, basing a conviction on the victim’s state of mind, because it criminalized a “defendant’s failure to apprehend the reaction that his words would have on another.”
This, Altman said, would have an impact on any fresh jury hearing the same evidence.
Altman said that all the briefs in the case had been submitted, and both sides were awaiting the court to schedule oral arguments.
“Nothing has ever changed, what I want and what the state wants is the same as it was in 2012,” Altman told The Daily Beast.
Altman said Ravi would decline The Daily Beast’s request for an interview, but that his client had “dealt with the situation as best he could. He is trying to live. I periodically meet with his family, who are extraordinarily decent and caring. They are doing as well as can be expected. From what I know, Dharun is very accepting of his experience, and trying to carry on.”
Altman said he wanted to be “extraordinarily careful” what he said in public about the case. “It never goes away,” he said. “I don't want to say anything that jeopardizes or prejudices Dharun Ravi’s case if we succeed, and a new trial is granted and we return to square one. And I don’t want to say anything that might be misread by, misunderstood by, or antagonize the Clementi family.”
However, a new trial would do precisely that. The first trial was emotionally taxing enough—for both families, for very different reasons. To return to court to argue over the evidence would arguably reawaken the Clementis’ trauma all over again.
In her interview, Jane Clementi told The Daily Beast, of Ravi’s initial sentence: “It didn’t seem like it fit the crime. I don’t think in my heart that the sentence was worthy of the crimes that were committed because there were so many crimes—it wasn’t just a simple one or two. He was taken up on 15 counts, so it just didn’t seem logical and I guess I am a logical person who believes ‘If you do a, you get b,’ and I didn’t see that happen.
“I don’t know what the right sentence or punishment would be—not the word ‘punishment’… What the right consequences would be, I guess, but I don’t know what they would be to prevent another child from doing it.”
“Ten years seems too harsh,” said Jane Clementi. “I want to change behavior, and I don’t know if that would change behavior or harden somebody, and make them a more negative person than someone already is. That’s not the goal. The goal is to change behavior, create good in them, and create a better society—that’s why we started the Tyler Clementi Foundation.”
Altman said, “Although Dharun Ravi was never indicted for causing the death of Tyler Clementi that was the specter cast that affected how the case proceeded. It was the first case I’ve ever attended which was standing-room only, and with the click-click-click of cameras every 30 seconds.”
The Clementi family strongly disagrees with Altman, maintaining that Ravi was prosecuted not for causing the death of Tyler, but for crimes he committed when Tyler was alive—and that the court and jury were rightly focused on evaluating these when it reached its verdict.
The Clementis also believe that had the webcamming incident not taken place Tyler would be alive today.
“There are lots of reasons why people would attempt to or die by suicide,” Jane Clementi told me. “But I just can’t imagine being humiliated like that in front of my new dorm-mates and I can’t even imagine what Tyler must have been feeling or thinking. Knowing the Tyler I knew, I do see those actions as bullying actions.
“I do know that with bullying not everyone experiences situations in the same way, but I do think if Tyler didn’t have that experience, the story would have been different and I think we would not ever be meeting because Tyler would be here and we would be having a joyous Thanksgiving celebration, instead of the one that I’m dreading.”