Dharun Ravi’s lawyer says defendant in Tyler Clementi case not anti-gay

GlobalPost

Lawyers and prosecutors at the trial of former Rutgers University student Dharun Ravi, accused of using a webcam to spy on an intimate liaison between his roommate Tyler Clementi and another man, have questioned whether Ravi had a problem with gay people.

Ravi, an Indian student who allegedly secretly recorded Clementi kissing a man with a webcam, then tweeted about it, faces 15 counts of bias intimidation, invasion of privacy, witness tampering and hindering prosecution.

After the alleged incident, Clementi committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge, sparking outrage among gay rights activists and a lengthy public discussion on cyber bullying.  

According to NBC News, a prosecutor told jurors Friday that Ravi, now 19, had acted maliciously "to deprive [Clementi] of his dignity." 

However Ravi's lawyer, Steven Altman, insisted that his client was not bigoted. "He may be stupid at times," Altman said in his opening statement to the New Jersey court. "He's an 18-year-old boy, but he's certainly not a criminal."

According to the Press Trust of India, Altman continued: "We do stupid things, we make mistakes, especially when we're young — it doesn't mean we're hateful, we're bigoted or we're criminal.

"In fact, Dharun never intimidated anyone. He never committed a hateful crime. He's not homophobic. He's not anti-gay."

Altman said his client saw only seconds' worth of images of Clementi and another man hugging, pleading with jurors to put the whole thing "in perspective." 

Middlesex County prosecutor Julia McClure told the jury in her half-hour opening statement, however, that:

"The defendant's acts were not a prank, they were not an accident and they were not a mistake. 

"These acts were purposeful, they were intentional and they were planned. They were mean-spirited, they were malicious, and they were criminal. Those acts were meant to cross one of the most sacred boundaries of human privacy, engaging in private sexual human activity."

McClure said Ravi's conduct is not about him having to like his roommate's sexual orientation. "This is about Dharun Ravi having the decency to respect it and to respect Tyler's dignity and privacy and the defendant did not do that."

"It was like opening the blinds of the window of that room," McClure said, according to NJ.com. "He left the blinds open and he opened and encouraged other people to look through those blinds."

McClure told jurors that much of the evidence against Ravi was contained in tweets, text messages, internet chats and documentation from Rutgers information technology and police departments. 

Prosecutors called Austin Chung, a high school friend of Ravi's and a student at Stevens Institute of Technology, as their first witness.

Chung said Ravi told him about seeing Clementi "making out with some dude" via webcam.

On cross-examination, Chung, said he didn't know Ravi to have a problem with gay people.

Three witnesses following Chung, when asked by Altman if they knew Ravi to speak against gays, also said he didn't.

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