A judge Monday sentenced a former Rutgers University student, Dharun Ravi, to 30 days in jail for spying on his gay roommate who later committed suicide, rejecting defense arguments that he did not deserve time behind bars but disappointing prosecutors who portrayed him as insensitive and driven by anti-gay bias.
Ravi, who is now 20, had faced 10 years in prison after being convicted last March of invasion of privacy, witness tampering, tampering of evidence, and the hate crime of bias intimidation. He was also sentenced to 300 hours of community service.
The jury had concluded that Ravi had targeted his roommate, Tyler Clementi, because Clementi was gay, and the bias-crime status virtually guaranteed he would get some prison time.
Clementi, 18, threw himself from the George Washington Bridge in September 2010, shortly after learning that Ravi had secretly videotaped him in their room with a male date.
While Ravi never was accused of causing Clementi’s death, the circumstances sparked a national debate on bullying and other pressures facing gay youths. During the trial, prosecutors sought to portray Ravi as a homophobic, self-satisfied college freshman who took pleasure in humiliating his shy, sensitive roommate.
Judge Glenn Berman addressed Ravi before announcing his sentence, saying: “Nothing I say is intended in any way to disparage you or demean you. I don’t even know you.”
“But I heard this jury say ‘guilty’ 288 times -- 24 questions, 12 jurors -- that’s the multiplication. And I haven’t heard you apologize once,” he said as Ravi sat silently, his chin often resting on his fist. “You cannot expunge the conduct or the pain you caused.”
He noted that Ravi has no prior record and that it was unlikely he would commit another offense. He also said he did not think Ravi was anti-gay.
“I do not believe he hated Tyler Clementi … but I do believe he acted out of colossal insensitivity,” Berman said. Ravi’s mother sobbed in the courtroom as the sentence was read, and Clementi’s parents sat quietly.
Ravi, sitting in a dark suit and tie, sat quietly with his eyes downcast, as he had throughout the morning as Clementi’s parents, brother, and prosecutors appealed for prison time, rejecting arguments that as a first-time offender, Ravi should be spared incarcerations.
“All of the defendant’s actions … were planned, were purposeful, and were malicious,” prosecutor Julia McClure said, describing Ravi as an arrogant attention-seeker and dismissing the defense claim that Ravi meant no harm when he secretly filmed Clementi. It “defies logic and common sense,” she said.
“The jury’s verdict gave some measure of justice … but justice can only be fully realized by respecting and enforcing the law and punishing this defendant for his conduct, his criminal acts,” she said.
Defense attorney Steve Altman read a statement to Berman after Clementi’s mother, father, brother and a man secretly filmed with Clementi demanded prison time for Ravi.
Altman said he had come before the packed courtroom with an anxiety “1,000-fold more than what I’ve ever experienced before” because he knew he needed to persuade Berman to keep Ravi out of jail. “I know that’s climbing a mountain,” he said, but he repeated his argument that the case had been overshadowed by Clementi’s suicide even though Ravi was not charged in his death.
“This isn’t about a simple invasion of privacy,” he said. “This case is being tried and it’s being treated and exists today as if it’s a murder case.” Even the victim impact statements “are replete with suggestions … that Dharun has some responsibility, some role in that terrible, terrible choice of Tyler’s.”
As he spoke, Ravi, dressed in a dark suit, sat quietly, his eyes downcast. Those in the packed courtroom included more than a dozen family members, including his father, Ravi Pazhani, who said his son had been “dragged through the mud” and demonized for Clementi’s suicide even though he said he had no part in it. “Dharun is punished for what happened after the incident,” he said, referring to Clementi’s death.
Pazhani described his son as a “passive child” and said it was impossible that he could have become the arrogant bully that prosecutors portrayed during his first year in Rutgers. “We are not a homophobic family. Dharun was not raised to hate gays,” said Pazhani, who also alluded to his family’s Indian heritage.
“As an American, I may look different, have a different skin color, may speak differently from most,” he said in heavily accented English. “But believe me, I am a parent first.” Pazhani then went on to pay tribute to Tyler Clementi, referring to his talents as a violinist and lamenting his early death.
“Rest in peace, Tyler, you will always be in our thoughts and prayers,” he said before appealing to Berman to spare his son jail time.
Ravi, who had been stoic through the various statements, broke down in tears when his mother, Sabitha Ravi, then took a seat beside him at the defense table and described between sobs how the case had devastated the family and how she felt her son had been wrongly characterized.
“Dharun’s dreams are shattered and he has been living in hell for the past 20 months,” she cried.