The trial of Dharun Ravi, the New Jersey man charged with spying on his college roommate, is gearing up as jury selection was expected to finish today.
Ravi faces 10 years in prison if convicted on a slew of charges stemming from his use of a webcam to watch Tyler Clementi, his freshman roommate at Rutgers, in an intimate encounter with a man. Clementi, a talented violinist, jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge in September 2010, days after Ravi allegedly told friends on Twitter that it appeared Clementi planned a second tryst.
Ravi was not charged in Clementi's death, but the details surrounding the case sparked a national debate on anti-gay bias, cyber bullying and privacy in the age of social media, thrusting Ravi's trial into the spotlight.
A jury of 16 people will decide if Ravi, who turns 20 on Tuesday, is guilty of 15 charges, including bias intimidation, witness tampering and invasion of privacy, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
Ravi and Clementi moved into their dormitory room at Rutgers' New Brunswick campus in August 2010. Ravi, a computer whiz, had learned that Clementi, 18, was gay through Internet searches before they started college.
Prosecutors will argue that Ravi used a laptop to watch what happened in his room on Sept. 19, 2010, according to the Star-Ledger. Clementi asked to have private use of the room that night. Ravi went to a friend's room and activated a webcam to see what Clementi and a visitor were doing.
Ravi's friend, Molly Wei, said they saw Clementi and another man began touching each other. They turned it off after a few seconds, she said. Later that night, Wei and another woman used the camera again via her computer, this time seeing Clementi and the man with their shirts off. Wei, who was also arrested, will be a witness for the prosecution.
Ravi tweeted, "I saw him making out with a dude. Yay," according to media reports.
Two days later, Clementi asked for the room again. This time, Ravi allegedly announced to friends on Twitter that they could watch his roommate's love life.
Clementi, however, was apparently aware that Ravi spied on him. He sent emails to friends saying he turned off his roommate's computer prior to his second encounter with the man identified as "M.B."
The next day, Sept. 22, Clementi asked dormitory officials to switch his room, alleging that Ravi violated his privacy. That night, Clementi plunged to his death.
Ravi's attitude towards homosexuals and Clementi's state of mind will be crucial factors in reaching a verdict.
For the prosecution to win the bias convictions -- essentially hate crimes -- they must prove that he targeted Clementi because he was gay.
Clementi's response to Ravi's use of the webcam and the tweets about him will come into play as well. In some of the communication with friends, Clementi appears to joke about the alleged spying, but in other instances he sounded more upset.
A pool of 2,000 people were summoned and winnowed down for the case that's expected to last three to four weeks, the Associated Press reported.
Ravi turned down a plea deal in December that would have given him six months of probation.
"He's innocent. He's not guilty," his lawyer Steven Altman said then. "That's why he rejected the plea."
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