|Courtesy of New Jersey Star Ledger|
THE OTHER VICTIM
Superior Court Judge Glenn Berman ruled that the defense must have M.B.’s full name but cannot share the information. Because the state has charged Ravi with invasion of privacy as a sex crime, Berman has ordered that if M.B. testifies at trial, he will only be identified in court by his initials, and that the media cannot take photos or video of him.
While evidence has emerged about the strained relationship Clementi had with his parents after he told them about his sexuality, prosecutors say there is just as much information that Clementi was wounded by Ravi’s actions.
"We live in a culture that’s very judgmental and people are biased in one way or another, but they’re not committing crimes that are based on that bias," said Louis Raveson, a professor at the Rutgers-Newark School of Law.
Raveson said the bias charge is a difficult one to prove, but not impossible. "When kids are dealing with their own sexuality and being gay, that’s an incredibly fragile time for them. When you take advantage of that and humiliate somebody purposely, you can’t just say, ‘Oh, gee, what an extreme reaction, that was a harmless prank.’ Well, the jury could easily find that wasn’t a harmless prank because the defendant knew or should have known there could have been disastrous consequences."
BACK ON CAMPUS
On Rutgers’ Busch campus in Piscataway, more than a dozen students interviewed were divided on the topic. Some, like Calvin Kwon, a senior, described it as a prank that went horribly wrong.
"It’s definitely terrible what’s happened," said Kwon, 21. "It shows how a joke can be taken too far. Little things that might not mean much to one person can mean a lot to someone else."
Others were less sympathetic, believing Ravi deserves jail time for invading Clementi’s privacy. "Obviously, he’s got a problem with Tyler being gay," said Keith Everitt, 33, a sophomore majoring in computer engineering. "So he was trying to forcibly out him or pick on him."
Ravi was not the only person charged in the case. Fellow Rutgers student Molly Wei of West Windsor was initially charged with invasion of privacy but was never indicted. According to a statement Wei gave investigators, Ravi went to her dorm room — which was across the hall from his — and turned on the camera for about five seconds that day in September. As soon as they saw Clementi and the man kissing, Ravi turned it off, Wei said. In a statement to police, she said that after Ravi left her room, she turned it back on to show some of her girlfriends, but Ravi turned it off again when he returned. Wei was allowed to enter a pre-trial probationary program in return for her agreement to testify against Ravi. Neither Wei nor her family has spoken publicly. Ravi and Wei withdrew from Rutgers University several weeks after they were charged.
For the trial, 2,000 jury notices were sent out in early January, and more than 200 potential jurors showed up Friday to fill out questionnaires. That document is 17 pages long and asks 47 questions, many of them particular to this case. Among them are questions about college dorm life, experience with social media, along with feelings toward homosexuals and possible "negative experiences with someone of Indian descent." Ravi, who grew up in the United States, was born in India.
Some potential jurors will be immediately excused, and the remaining ones will return for questioning Tuesday. Berman will likely impanel 14 jurors for the trial, with opening statements starting as early as Wednesday.
In recent months, Clementi’s parents have begun to speak publicly. They created a foundation in their son’s name that focuses on preventing teen suicide and anti-bullying initiatives, and in the lead-up to the trial, have given a series of interviews to media outlets.
Joseph and Jane Clementi, who learned their son was gay just weeks before his death, have discussed their pain — Tyler was the second of three sons — and the tension that arose from his decision to reveal his homosexuality.
In an interview with People magazine, Jane Clementi called "especially devastating" one message Tyler sent a friend that read in part: "Mom has basically rejected me."
The parents oppose Ravi serving any prison time, saying in an October statement that "legal accountability does not necessarily require the imposition of a harsh penalty in this case." Tyler’s older brother, James — who told his parents that he was gay only after the suicide — has also given several interviews.
Ravi’s family has remained silent since his arrest.
In court appearances, Ravi, who is thin with curly dark hair, has said little except to answer direct questions from the judge. With no prior criminal record, he turned down an offer from the prosecutor’s office in December that involved pleading guilty to some of the bias intimidation and privacy charges in exchange for probation. It included an offer to help Ravi — who is not a U.S. citizen — if immigration authorities moved to deport him to India.
Ravi’s attorney, Steven Altman, said his client rejected the plea deal because, "He’s innocent. He’s not guilty."
The case, said Susan Abraham, highlights the criminal justice system’s uncertainty when dealing with "this kind of emotional bullying. Should it be treated in the criminal courts or some other way? Maybe we need clearer guidelines. Maybe this case will start the conversation about thinking a few steps ahead, about what’s okay and what’s not okay," she said. "The problem with criminalizing these (online) postings and the things young people do on the internet is a lot of them don’t know what the rules are. Maybe they should."
By Alexi Friedman and Sue Epstein/The Star-Ledger
Staff writer Nic Corbett contributed to this report.