NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — The trial of a former Rutgers University student accused of using a webcam to spy on his gay roommate's intimate liaison with another man opened Friday with questions about whether the defendant has a problem with gay people.
A prosecutor told jurors that Dharun Ravi, now 19, spied on roommate Tyler Clementi and acted maliciously "to deprive him of his dignity." Clementi, in an act that sparked a national conversation about the bullying of young gay people, committed suicide days after the alleged spying in September 2010.
Ravi's lawyer insisted his client isn't bigoted.
"He may be stupid at times," defense attorney Steven Altman said in his opening statement. "He's an 18-year-old boy, but he's certainly not a criminal."
Early witnesses testified that Ravi expressed discomfort about having a gay roommate, but they said they didn't know him to have a problem with gay people generally.
His attitude matters in the trial because the 15 charges Ravi faces include bias intimidation, which can carry a 10-year prison sentence. To get a conviction on that charge, prosecutors must persuade jurors that Ravi acted out of bias against gays.
Ravi also is charged with invasion of privacy. And he is accused of trying to cover his tracks by taking measures including deleting a Twitter message and instructing a witness in what to tell police. He is not charged with Clementi's death.
In her half-hour opening statement, First Assistant Middlesex County prosecutor Julia McClure did not mention Clementi's suicide. But she said that Ravi's actions were intended to victimize his roommate.
It wasn't just that he used his webcam to see what Clementi was up to, she said; he also posted on Twitter to tell others about it and later told them how they'd be able watch a second liaison.