Just months after the public outcry and outrage over Casey Anthony's not guilty verdict, the court of public opinion has set its eye on a new villain: Dharun Ravi. While it seems clear to us, the public, that Ravi is to blame for the death of Tyler Clementi and that he is indeed guilty of a heinous form of bias intimidation, what the public sees and what the jurors see are two very different things. My fear is, just as in the Casey Anthony case, Ravi will be found not guilty because despite the overwhelming public perception of guilt, the evidence is just not there.
Since Ravi cannot be charged in the death of Clementi, to the prosecution, the next best thing is to charge him with bias intimidation. Now they are tasked with proving, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Ravi's actions were intended to intimidate Clementi because he was gay.
Yet, the best evidence to prove that Clementi was intimidated by Ravi's alleged spying is the fact that he leapt to his death right after these incidents. However, the judge has been incredibly cautious about allowing discussion of Clementi's suicide in the courtroom. Prosecutors are barred from linking the spying allegations to his suicide and defense lawyers are barred from making the case that Clementi killed himself for reasons other than the webcam incident.
The other key to proving this crime is how the victim felt and whether he indeed was intimidated. Yet because Clementi is not here today to answer questions or be cross-examined, nearly every example of how he felt has been barred by the judge as hearsay.
When M.B., the man caught in sexual encounters with Clementi, testified about hearing people laugh through the window the night of Sept. 21, he was not permitted by the judge to describe how Clementi reacted to the laughter. He simply told the court he heard "people joking, people laughing. It seemed like the jokes were at somebody else's expense."
When jurors are presented with evidence regarding an online form Clementi filled out requesting a new room on the university's website, only the statement Clementi made requesting the room is admissible, but not the reason why. The judge has ordered the prosecution to redact the statement Clementi made accusing Ravi of spying on him because it's hearsay.
When former Rutgers dorm resident assistant Raahi Grover testified about Clementi's conversation, and subsequent e-mail, requesting a new room, hearsay evidence precluded him from divulging specific contents regarding Clementi's feelings and opinions. Although the e-mail actually stated, "I feel like my privacy has been violated and I am extremely uncomfortable sharing a room with someone who would act in such a wildly inappropriate manner," the words "such a wildly inappropriate" were never seen by jurors.
Another key to the prosecution's ability to prove bias intimidation is for witnesses to state Ravi had demonstrated hostility towards homosexuals. However, thus far, not a single state witness has stated Ravi demonstrated any such hostility. The only real evidence to support that charge came when Ravi's friend since high school, Michelle Huang, testified Monday that Ravi tweeted her "we have to keep the gays away" after inviting her to a viewing party.
The circumstances of this case, where the trial playing out in front of a jury is very different of that playing out in the media, remind me of Casey Anthony's trial. Prosecutors failed to prove to the jury that she should be found guilty of first-degree murder because the physical evidence simply was not there and the burden of proof could not be met. Although jurors admitted not guilty does not mean innocent, they were only able to convict her of the lesser charge of providing false information to police officers.
Similarly, as I watch the Ravi trial unfold, I fear prosecutors will not be able to meet the burden of proof necessary for jurors to convict Ravi of bias intimidation -- though it does seem likely that a favorable jury would convict Ravi of the lesser charge of invasion of privacy, based on the evidence presented thus far. So just a warning to those following the trial, don't be surprised if the jury returns with a not guilty verdict, as they did in the Casey Anthony case.