Student jailed over webcam video of gay roommate

America divided over 30-day sentence in trial following suicide of Tyler Clementi

Rob Hastings
Tuesday 22 May 2012 01:57 BST
Dharun Ravi wipes a tear from his eye as his mother, Sabitha Rav reads a statement during a sentencing hearing for his conviction in using a webcam to invade privacy
Dharun Ravi wipes a tear from his eye as his mother, Sabitha Rav reads a statement during a sentencing hearing for his conviction in using a webcam to invade privacy (Reuters)

Three days after the humiliation and torment of being secretly videoed in a gay embrace by a "homophobic" roommate who gossiped and mocked him online, Tyler Clementi leapt to his death from New York's George Washington Bridge.

The ensuing court case against his roommate, Dharun Ravi, 20, provoked an intense debate about bullying and the treatment of young gays in the US – but that debate quickly changed to one about lenient sentences yesterday after Ravi was sent to jail for just 30 days.

He could have gone to prison for 10 years and been deported from the country after being found unanimously guilty in March of 15 charges, including invasion of privacy, interfering with a witness, tampering with evidence and the hate crime of "bias intimidation". Indeed, Judge Glenn Berman told Ravi: "I heard this jury say guilty 288 times: 24 questions, 12 jurors, that's the multiplication."

Yet despite saying that "society has every right to expect zero tolerance for intolerance" and criticising Ravi for his lack of apology, the judge angered some gay-rights campaigners with the short jail term.

The case dated back to September 2010. Mr Clementi asked Ravi, his randomly assigned roommate at Rutgers University who was born in India but spent much of his life in New Jersey, if he could have some privacy for a night. But after going to a friend's room, Ravi turned on the webcam on his computer remotely to watch Mr Clementi and an unnamed guest kissing. Ravi and his friend then told others about this through Twitter and instant messaging, with Ravi tweeting: "I saw him making out with a dude. Yay."

Mr Clementi asked to have the room to himself again two days later, leading Ravi to share a link to the webcam for others to watch, though that did not happen – there was conflicting testimony as to whether Mr Clementi unplugged the device or Ravi turned it off. The court heard during the trial that Mr Clementi had seen Ravi's tweets, checking his profile many times in apparent desperation before his suicide the next day.

Though Ravi was also ordered to receive counselling and pay $10,000 (£6,300) towards a help program for the victims of hate crimes, as well as being placed on three years probation, Chris Hartman, of the group Fairness, said the sentence was "not justice".

Mr Hartman told WFPL radio: "He was going to humiliate Tyler Clementi to such a degree that to pick up the pieces of his life would have been incredibly difficult And the reality for Tyler Clementi is it was so difficult there was no way out except taking himself out of the world. Thirty days for that is not equal."

The group Garden State Equality said in a statement that the outcome was close to the "extreme" view that Ravi "should have gotten no jail time at all". It added: "This was not merely a childhood prank gone awry. This was not a crime without bias."

Others felt that the case against Ravi had been unfairly influenced by Mr Clementi's death.

"This isn't about a simple invasion of privacy," Ravi's defence attorney, Steve Altman, said. "This case is being tried and it's being treated and exists today as if it's a murder case."

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