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Former Rutgers student gets 30 days in webcam spying case

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — A former Rutgers University student who used a webcam to spy on his gay roommate was sentenced Monday to 30 days in jail — a punishment that disappointed some activists but came as a relief to others who feared that he would be made a scapegoat for his fellow freshman's suicide.

Dharun Ravi, 20, could have gotten 10 years behind bars for his part in a case that burst onto front pages when Tyler Clementi jumped to his death off the George Washington Bridge.

Instead, Superior Court Judge Glenn Berman gave Ravi a month in jail, placed him on three years' probation and ordered him to get counseling and pay $10,000 toward a program to help victims of hate crimes.

"Our society has every right to expect zero tolerance for intolerance," the judge said.

Prosecutor Bruce Kaplan said he will appeal the sentence, calling it insufficient.

The tear-filled sentencing touched on many of the issues that made the case heart-wrenching and legally complicated: anti-gay bullying, teen suicide, hate-crime laws in the fast-changing Internet age, and the uses and abuses of technology in the hands of young people.

Ravi did not speak in court but shed tears as his mother pleaded with the judge not to send him to prison. Ravi, his family and his lawyers left court without comment. He is expected to appeal his conviction.

In handing down the sentence, the judge quoted an email from Clementi himself describing Ravi's conduct as "wildly inappropriate."

At the same time, Berman pointed out that Ravi was not charged in Clementi's suicide. He said Ravi has spent 20 months in "exile" since his arrest. And he suggested that "hate crime" is a misnomer for what Ravi was convicted of: "I do not believe he hated Tyler Clementi."

He also said he had examined the bias intimidation laws in 39 states and found that New Jersey's is among the broadest. Most, he said, are used only to increase the sentences of people convicted of violent crimes.

The judge said he would recommend that Ravi not be deported to his native India.

Prosecutors had asked that Ravi be sent to prison; they did not say how much time he should get, other than that it did not have to be the maximum. If prosecutors appeal the sentence, Ravi may not have to report to jail on May 31 as ordered.

New Jersey gay rights organization Garden State Equality expressed disappointment with the punishment. In a statement, chairman Steven Goldstein suggested that while the maximum would have been an act of "vengeance," 30 days was too light.

"This was not merely a childhood prank gone awry," Goldstein said.

Marc Poirier, a professor at Seton Hall Law School, said the judge skillfully found a middle ground. "Having no jail time would have been interpreted as being a slap on the wrist," he said. And a sentence of five to 10 years would be "out of control."

Clementi's father, Joe Clementi, told the judge that Ravi deserved to be punished, saying the young man saw his son as undeserving of basic human decency. The elder Clementi said Ravi "still does not get it" and has no remorse.

Ravi's mother, Sabitha Ravi, said in court that her son "doesn't have any hatred in his heart toward anybody."

Before the trial, prosecutors had offered Ravi a plea bargain that called for no prison time. He turned it down.

The charges

Dharun Ravi was convicted in March of invasion of privacy, bias intimidation on the basis of sexual orientation — an offense widely referred to as a hate crime — and trying to cover his tracks by destroying text messages and tweets and tampering with a witness.

The sentence

Ravi was sentenced to a month in jail and three years' probation and was ordered to get counseling and pay $10,000 toward a program to help victims of hate crimes.

Former Rutgers student gets 30 days in webcam spying case 05/21/12 [Last modified: Monday, May 21, 2012 10:31pm]
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