US & Canada

Rutgers webcam trial told Dharun Ravi 'is no gay-hater'

Dharun Ravi, the former Rutgers University student waits before court proceedings in New Brunswick, NJ, 9 March 2012
Image caption Dharun Ravi has not testified at his own trial

A US student accused of using a webcam to spy on a homosexual encounter involving his room-mate is not a criminal, his defence lawyer says.

Steven Altman told jurors in closing statements that Dharun Ravi never recorded the encounter and that he did not act out of a hatred of gays.

The room-mate, Tyler Clementi, jumped to his death from a bridge in 2010.

Mr Ravi is facing 15 charges, including invasion of privacy and bias intimidation, which is a hate crime.

Prosecutors have said Mr Ravi planned to "expose" Clementi's activity and that he acted purposefully and maliciously.

In her closing statement, prosecutor Julia McClure told jurors there was abundant proof that Mr Ravi had a problem with Clementi being gay.

"It wasn't a joke," she said, referring to his actions and to his use of Twitter to comment on Clementi's behaviour. "He didn't like that he had a gay room-mate."

The former Rutgers University student could face up to 10 years in prison. However, in order to secure the maximum sentence prosecutors must prove he acted out of anti-gay sentiment.

No 'ugliness'

Fighting a cold that forced him to delay his arguments, Mr Altman asked the jury if there was information and evidence of "hate" or "ugliness" in Mr Ravi's heart.

"Why we're here is because, on September 19 and September 21 of 2010, an 18-year-old boy, a kid, a college freshman, had an experience, had an encounter and he wasn't ready for, that he didn't expect, that he was surprised by, that he hadn't anticipated," Mr Altman said.

He also replayed a statement Mr Ravi made to police one day after Clementi's death, emphasising that he felt bad about seeing the encounter on the videostream.

Mr Ravi was not one of the 30 witnesses called during the trial.

The case centres on the days of 19 and 21 September 2010, when Mr Clementi asked Mr Ravi if he could have the room to himself.

Mr Ravi, who was in a friend's room, activated their webcam and saw the two men together, allegedly kissing.

He then tweeted about what he saw and also posted a message on Twitter when Mr Clementi asked to have the room again, two days later.

Mr Altman characterised the Twitter messages as an attempt to express surprise, saying they showed immaturity but were not a criminal act.

The attention surrounding Mr Clementi' s death triggered a national debate about tolerance and the social acceptance of young gay men.

Early reporting on the case focused on the presumed link between the spying and Mr Clementi's death.

But evidence of Clementi's motivations have not become public and prosecutors have not addressed the issue in their arguments.

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