An Indian immigrant college student convicted of illegally filming his gay roommate on a webcam received a big break Monday when a judge sentenced him to just 30 days behind bars, not the possible 10 years.
Dharun Ravi, who shared the webcam footage with friends in his dormitory at Rutgers University in New Jersey, had also faced possible deportation, but the judge said he would not recommend this.
The case sparked a national debate over cyber bullying and gay bashing when the 18-year-old roommate, apparently distraught in part over the embarrassment of the broadcasting of his gay sexual encounter, committed suicide days later. Ravi, now 20, was not charged with the death.
Ahead of the light sentence, Judge Glenn Berman in New Brunswick, New Jersey, gave Ravi a severe dressing down.
Ravi showed “colossal insensitivity” when he filmed Tyler Clementi in September 2010, Berman said in comments carried live on TruTV.
“I heard this jury say ‘guilty’ 288 times — 24 questions, 12 jurors,” Berman said. “I haven’t heard you apologize once.”
Berman said Ravi would never “expunge the conduct or the pain you caused.”
The jury found Ravi guilty of invading privacy, on some charges of anti-gay bias, and trying to impede investigators by deleting or doctoring text messages and tweets that he’d sent.
His lawyer had argued that Ravi was guilty only of a prank gone wrong when he filmed roommate Clementi in a kiss with a man, then Tweeted friends about what he’d seen and invited them to watch a live webcam video.
Although prosecutors painted Ravi as a mean-spirited bully, Berman noted several times that the young immigrant was not accused of causing Clementi’s death — a tragedy that brought huge attention to what might otherwise have been a little-noticed case.
In a heart wrenching speech before sentencing on Monday, Ravi’s mother recalled how they had arrived in the United States with just two suitcases and “a lot of hopes.” Her son, she said, had been a dedicated student who “doesn’t have any… or harbor hatred in his heart to anybody.”
“What my son Dharun is going through there is no word for me to explain. The smile and the bright eyes are gone from his face,” she said.
Addressing Clementi’s family, she said, “It is so sad he chose to end his life early. My heart goes to his family.”
When the unexpected sentence was passed, Ravi appeared not to react immediately, looking as stunned and near tears as he had throughout the hearing.
A New Jersey gay rights group, Garden State Equality, welcomed the judge’s lenient approach, saying that the maximum sentence would “have been vengeance beyond punishment and beyond sending a message to the rest of society.”
The month in jail and probation was correct, the group said, but added: “This was not a childhood prank gone awry. This was not a crime without bias.”
[An Indian immigrant college student convicted of illegally filming his gay roommate on a webcam received a big break Monday when a judge sentenced him to just 30 days behind bars, not the possible 10 years. AFP Photo/Magan Crane]