NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — A former Rutgers University student was convicted Friday on all 15 charges he had faced for using a webcam to spy on his roommate having sex with another man, a verdict poised to broaden the definition of hate crimes in an era when laws have not kept up with evolving technology.
"It's a watershed moment, because it says youth is not immunity," said Marcellus McRae, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice.
The student, Dharun Ravi, had sent out Twitter and text messages encouraging others to watch. His roommate, Tyler Clementi, jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge three days after the webcam viewing, three weeks into their freshman year in September 2010.
The case set off a debate about whether hate-crime statutes are the best way to deal with bullying.
While Ravi was not charged with Clementi's death, some legal experts argued that he was being punished for it, and that would result only in ruining another young life.
They, along with Ravi's lawyers, had argued that the case was criminalizing simple boorish behavior.
But Bruce Kaplan, the prosecutor in Middlesex County, applauded the jury for sending a strong message against bias. "They felt the pain of Tyler," he said.
Ravi, 20, wearing a dark suit over his slight frame, sat expressionless as the jury forewoman read the verdict on the first count, of invasion of privacy. But he seemed surprised when she pronounced him guilty on the next charge, of bias intimidation. His eyes popped and he quickly turned his head from the jury.
As he left the courtroom in a swarm of television cameras, his mother clutching his arm, he looked straight ahead and said nothing.
The jury also found him guilty of lying to investigators, trying to influence a witness, and tampering with evidence after he tried to cover up Twitter and text messages inviting others to join in the viewing.
Some of the charges carry penalties of five to 10 years in prison. Ravi has surrendered his passport; prosecutors said he could face possible deportation to his native India, but that decision would be left to immigration officials. Judge Glenn Berman set sentencing for May 21.
Ravi's lead lawyer, Steven Altman, made only a brief statement via email following the verdict, saying "rest assured" he would appeal.