By Robin Rieger
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (AP) — After weeks of testimony, the case that kick-started national conversations about gay youths and Internet privacy was sent Wednesday to a jury that must decide whether a former Rutgers University student is a criminal or just a young man who was confused by seeing two men kiss.
Dharun Ravi, now 20, is accused of viewing a few seconds of his roommate’s intimate encounter with another man in their dorm room and telling people about it in text messages, tweets and in person. He could face years in prison if convicted of charges including invasion of privacy and bias intimidation, a hate crime.
Lawyers gave their summations Tuesday in the case, which has gotten enormous attention since the events of September 2010, when the roommate, Tyler Clementi, jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge.
Ravi could also face deportation to India, where he was born and remains a citizen, if he’s convicted. An expert says the risk of deportation is highest if he is convicted on the most serious charges.
Last year, prosecutors offered Ravi a plea bargain that called for no prison time — and help avoiding deportation.
“The decision was made by his legal team to roll the dice,” said Michael Wildes, a New York City immigration lawyer who is not involved in the case. “We’ll see whether it was a good decision.”
Wildes said immigration authorities could seek to have Ravi deported if he is convicted of any crime that lands him a prison sentence of a year or more.
In theory, all 15 of the charges he faces — among them are hindering apprehension, tampering with a witness and tampering with evidence — could result in prison time. But incarceration is likely only if he’s convicted of one of the two second-degree bias intimidation charges he faces.
Wildes said the government could also seek to deport Ravi if he’s convicted of a crime it considers to involve “moral turpitude,” whether he’s imprisoned for it or not. The list of those crimes is long, Wildes said.
Any deportation decision would have to be made by a federal immigration judge. And, Wildes said, Ravi could argue that his deportation would harm U.S. citizens or that he should remain in the country because he has lived here legally with his family since he was a young boy and because he has no prior criminal record.
As for the immigration help from state authorities, Wildes said such offers are usually “empty promises.”
The trial — which included testimony from about 30 witnesses over 12 days, in addition to the closing arguments — focused on a few days in the Rutgers dorm where Ravi and Clementi, both 18-year-olds from well-off New Jersey suburbs, were randomly assigned to be first-year roommates.
Jurors asked for a copy of the judge’s instructions to them on Wednesday afternoon, after less than an hour of deliberations. Judge Glenn Berman said he didn’t have a copy to give them, but said he would answer specific questions if they had them. A bit later, they asked about one of the bias intimidation charges, wanting to know definitions of “intimidation” and “purpose.”
The jury went home for the night after about four hours of deliberation and no quick verdict.
There are relatively few factual disputes in the case. The challenge for jurors could be deciding whether the laws apply to what Ravi is alleged to have done.
Ravi can be convicted of intimidation if he’s also found guilty of an underlying invasion-of-privacy charge. And to convict him of bias intimidation, jurors would have to be convinced that he intended to intimidate Clementi or his guest, or that Clementi reasonably believed Ravi wanted to intimidate him because he was gay.
Clementi’s death was one in a string of suicides by young gays around the country in September 2010 and became probably the best known. President Barack Obama commented on it in an online video, as did talk show host Ellen DeGeneres.
New Jersey lawmakers hastened passage of an anti-bullying law because of the case, and Rutgers changed housing policies to allow opposite-sex roommates in an effort to make a more comfortable environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students.
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