Although a judge admonished him for his actions that led to the suicide of his college roommate, a Rutgers University student who faced up to 10 years imprisonment was sentenced Monday to 30 days in jail.
Twenty-year-old Dharun Ravi could have spent a decade behind bars after a March conviction for anti-gay intimidation, invasion of privacy and several other crimes after using his webcam to watch his gay roommate, Tyler Clementi, kiss another man.
The case made headlines in September 2010, when Clementi killed himself after learning he had been spied upon.
“I heard this jury say guilty 288 times, 24 questions, 12 jurors, that’s the multiplication. And I haven’t heard you apologize once,” State Superior Court Judge Glenn Berman told Ravi. “And the letter you gave to the pre-sentence people, I’ll call it unimpressive.”
Berman also ordered Ravi to serve three years of probation, get counseling, complete 300 hours of community service and pay $10,000 in fines.
Still, some legal experts say the sentence seemed light. Says Eric Nemecek, co-chair of the American Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Cybercrime Committee; “I would not have been surprised if the court had given substantially more time.”
Prosecutors and Ravi’s defense attorneys plan to appeal the sentence, handed down after an emotional four-hour hearing that included statements from Ravi and Clementi’s families and scathing words from Berman.
The judge said he wouldn’t recommend Ravi’s deportation to his native India. That was a decision Berman said he based on a letter from M.B., the unidentified man Clementi was kissing, who asked that Ravi not be deported.
Ravi was not charged in connection with Clementi’s death, but he was convicted on all 15 counts he faced by a Middlesex County jury in March, including invasion of privacy, bias intimidation and witness and evidence tampering. Ravi rigged his computer in the Rutgers dorm room he and Clementi shared so it could be turned on from remote locations to view what was happening in the room.
The case ignited a national debate surrounding New Jersey’s tough hate crime laws, even though the defendant was not charged with a hate crime.
Many argued that the case was really about bad decisions made in the age of the Internet where everyone has instant access to video and text messages through Facebook and Twitter.
Ravi, dressed in a dark suit, showed no emotion during the hearing except when his mother stood to read her statement. At times sobbing, Sabitha Ravi said she had watched her son hopelessly the past months and tried to explain to his younger brother what was happening, at which point Ravi broke down and cried. “He doesn’t have any hatred in his heart toward anybody,” she said, adding that Ravi’s dreams are shattered and he is “living in hell.”
But Clementi’s father, brother and mother said Ravi wanted little to do with Tyler once he learned he was gay. Clementi’s brother, James, said Tyler’s “fate was sealed” when a computer randomly assigned Ravi as his roommate.
“(Tyler) could never have known the viper’s nest he was walking into,” James Clementi said. “My brother never stood a chance of having a happy and comfortable first year of college.”