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Rutgers webcam trial headed to jury

March 13, 2012 4:34:20 PM PDT
His defense lawyer says Dharun Ravi is a "kid" who didn't have "ugliness" in his heart. A prosecutor says, "there wasn't one thing about the defendant's actions that were good-natured."

It will be up to a jury to decide Wednesday whether it was a crime when Ravi viewed a few seconds of his roommate's intimate encounter with another man and told people about it in text messages, tweets and in person.

Lawyers gave their summations Tuesday in the case that has gotten enormous attention since the events of September 2010, when Ravi's roommate, Tyler Clementi, jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge.

The trial, which included testimony from about 30 witnesses over 12 days in addition to Tuesday's closing arguments, focused on a few days in the dorm where Ravi and Clementi, both 18-year-olds from well-off New Jersey suburbs, were randomly assigned to be roommates for their first year at Rutgers University.

Defense attorney Steven Altman told jurors that Ravi was surprised to turn on his webcam and see his roommate in an intimate situation with another man. He emphasized that there was no recording, no broadcast and no YouTube video of the Sept. 19, 2010, encounter.

And he said Ravi was not acting out of hatred of his roommate or gays in general when he saw the image from his webcam on the computer of another student.

"If there's hate in Dharun's heart, if there's ugliness in Dharun's heart," Altman asked jurors, "where's there some information and some evidence to support it?"

Altman's presentation lasted about three hours, but there was a three-hour break in the middle when he got sick.

He said Ravi tweeted and talked about what he saw, but that he was only doing so because he was young, had never before seen men kissing and did not know what to do. And he'd turned on the webcam in the first place, Altman said, because he was worried about what was happening in his room after seeing Clementi's guest, whom Ravi described as "older" and "sketchy." His client, Altman said, was concerned about whether the stranger might take the iPad he'd left in the room.

That's a characterization Middlesex County First Assistant Prosecutor Julia McClure disputed. She reminded jurors of testimony from some of Ravi's high school friends that even before Ravi moved into the dorm, he was concerned about having a gay roommate.

"He was so shocked that within about four minutes, he sent out a tweet, because he was seeking advice?" McClure asked. And, she said, there was evidence that he then told other students about what he'd seen and invited them to a friend's room where they could see for themselves.

Some testified that they did view a few more seconds of the stream - this time seeing Clementi and his guest, a 32-year-old man who was identified in court only by the initials M.B., shirtless and kissing - but no one said that Ravi saw those images.

Two nights later, Clementi asked for the room alone again.

McClure told jurors that within minutes of that request, Ravi sent a tweet "daring" friends to connect to his computer by videochat.

In his summation, Altman noted that none of Ravi's roughly 150 Twitter followers seemed to take action after seeing his tweets. "Not one attempt to see anything, what does it tell you?" Altman asked. "Nobody cares and nobody's taking it very seriously."

He suggested that if Clementi were truly intimidated, he would not have had M.B. over that night.

But McClure said Clementi took the Twitter postings seriously, going to a resident assistant and saving copies of Ravi's tweets after learning about them.

Two students testified that Ravi showed them how to view the webstream. But there was evidence that his computer was offline by the time Clementi and M.B. were in the room.

Ravi told police in a statement that he had shut it down so no one could view what was happening.

But McClure told jurors that's impossible. She said it went offline after Ravi left for Ultimate Frisbee practice and was running again by the time he was returned. It was Clementi, she said, who unplugged the computer.

"His intent was targeted and it was targeted at Tyler," she said, as Ravi, now 20, stoically looked forward. "And it was targeted at Tyler because of Tyler's sexual orientation."

The challenge for jurors could be deciding whether the laws apply to what Ravi is alleged to have done.

He faces 15 charges. Four are invasion of privacy and attempted invasion of privacy charges, where the required proof is that he saw or disseminated images - or attempted to - of private parts or sex acts, or a situation where someone might reasonably expect to see them.

Four charges allege bias intimidation. Ravi can be convicted of intimidation if he's also found guilty of an underlying invasion-of-privacy charge. Two of those charges are second-degree crimes punishable by up to 10 years in prison - the most significant penalties he faces if convicted.

Seven charges accuse him of trying to cover his tracks. Among the allegations: that he deleted and changed Twitter postings and text messages and told another witness what to say.

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