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Rutgers spycam case heads to jury, hinges on 'bias intimidation'

The spycam case drew national attention because of the intersection of alleged discrimination against gays and the intrusion of social media. Dharun Ravi faces 15 criminal charges.

By Staff writer / March 13, 2012

Dharun Ravi listens to testimony during his trial at the Middlesex County Courthouse in New Brunswick, N.J., Monday. Ravi is accused of using a webcam to spy on his gay roommate, who committed suicide just days after the alleged spying.

John O'Boyle/The Star-Ledger/AP

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Attorneys made closing arguments Tuesday in the trial of a former Rutgers University student accused of cyber intimidation by using a webcam and other social media to expose his male roommate's intimate encounter with another man.
 
The gay roommate, Tyler Clementi, committed suicide by jumping off New York City's George Washington Bridge days after learning that information about his relationship had been made public.

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Dharun Ravi, the defendant, stands accused of engaging "bias intimidation" against Mr. Clementi because of his sexual orientation. That's the most serious of 15 criminal charges against Mr. Ravi, which could result in as much as 10 years in prison.

The New Jersey case has drawn nationwide attention because it reflects the intersection of two prominent social issues: concerns about the challenges faced by young gay Americans and the ubiquity of social media in daily life.
 
Mr. Ravi set up his computer to monitor activities in the room he shared with Clementi, and communicated about his roommate's sexual orientation via text messages with friends and public posts on the Twitter social network.
 
"His intent was purposeful and ... it was targeted at Tyler," prosecuting attorney Julia McClure said in her sum-up argument. "And it was targeted at Tyler because of his sexual orientation."

The question now is whether the jury will agree on those points, all critical to proving "bias intimidation" beyond reasonable doubt.

Ravi's defense counsel said no evidence showed the defendant to feel hatred toward his roommate or gays in general.
 
Ms. McClure told jurors that no other motive could explain Ravi's actions, and that the actions spoke louder than any words could have. "He didn't have to announce it to anyone," she said. "You can decide ... if his actions prove that motivation."
 
The presentations to jurors were lengthy, including a roughly hour-long video of Ravi being interrogated after Clementi's disappearance in September 2010. The judge in the case still needs to present instructions to jurors on the laws they must consider.
 
After that, sometime Wednesday morning, jurors will begin deliberations on a verdict.

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