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Portrait Emerges of Rutgers Webcam Spy Defendant

by Geoff Mulvihill
Monday Mar 12, 2012

Dharun Ravi looked composed for an 18-year-old wearing shorts, a T-shirt and flip-flops when he was brought into a police station for questioning on Sept. 23, 2010 about his Rutgers University roommate, Tyler Clementi.

Word had spread that Ravi used his webcam to view Clementi in a private moment with another man, just days before Clementi committed suicide.

As he was questioned, Ravi looked directly at the investigator who grilled him and accused him repeatedly of lying. He talked quickly but his voice didn't trail off.

Now, he and his lawyers must decide whether he should take the witness stand in his defense and address jurors directly. They'll have to weigh whether they think adding his voice - and giving prosecuting lawyers a chance to cross-examine him - will help his case or hurt it.

Ravi, now 20, is charged with 15 criminal counts including invasion of privacy, bias intimidation and attempting to cover his tracks by tampering with evidence and a witness.

Clementi jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge into the Hudson River on Sept. 22, 2010.

Testimony in the trial has taken 11 days so far. Ravi sits about 20 feet from jurors - wearing a suit, his formerly unkempt hair trimmed neatly - but they have not heard him utter a single word in person.

Between his words and those of others, a portrait of him has been painted for jurors.

Born in India, he came to New Jersey with his family as a young child. He and his family live in the upscale central New Jersey community of Plainsboro.

The son of a computer software firm executive, he has designed some software on his own.

The younger Ravi had a custom-made computer that functioned on both Microsoft and Apple Macintosh operating systems. That technical accomplishment - while not unheard of - impressed the detective assigned to examine the machine.

He was gregarious and good enough at calculus that other students came to him for help.

In high school, he ran track and played ultimate Frisbee, then joined the disc team when he got to Rutgers. He was proud when he bought new cleats for the sports, describing them in a text message to a friend as "purple and flashy."

At Rutgers, he planned to major in economics. The university assigned him and Clementi to be roommates at random. They didn't meet before they moved in at the end of August.

When he met with police, he was asked to explain a Twitter post in which he said: "Anyone with iChat, I dare you to video chat me between the hours of 9:30 pm and 12."

On the video, he said he meant that sarcastically. "When I'm uncomfortable about something," Ravi explained during the interrogation, "I joke about it."

To convict him on the most serious charge - bias intimidation - prosecutors will need to convince the jury that he acted out of animus against gays. He faces up to 10 years of prison if he's convicted of bias intimidation, which is considered a hate crime in New Jersey. Most people convicted of the other charges he faces don't get jail time.

Throughout the trial, defense lawyers have worked hard to show that he didn't.

As prosecutors called college students to testify, defense lawyers asked them all a variation of the same question: Did he ever say anything bad about gays? In each case, the answer was "no."

But there was a bit more to it than that. Some students said Ravi told them he was "uncomfortable" having a gay roommate.

The defense began presenting its side of the case on Friday by calling seven men to testify. All of them are friends - and most current or former business associates - of Ravi's father.

Defense lawyer Philip Nettl asked each of them if Ravi ever said anything derogatory about gay individuals or gays in general.

In each case, the men said no.

Then, First Assistant Middlesex County Prosecutor Julia McClure began questioning them.

All said they had never seen his Twitter posts, and exchanged texts or instant messages with him. And each of them said homosexuality was never discussed in their conversations.

"Why would that come up?" asked one of the men, Anil Kappa, a business partner of Ravi's father.

Copyright Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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