Tyler Clementi’s Rutgers roommate gets his convictions thrown out
NEW BRUNSWICK — The conviction of the former Rutgers University student who used a webcam to capture his roommate kissing another man has been thrown out by an appellate court panel, which ordered a new trial.
The court tossed several bias intimidation counts against Dharun Ravi, saying the prosecutors relied on victim Tyler Clementi's state of mind to prove Ravi's guilt in the 2012 trial. They also dismissed the remaining charges, arguing that the jury was likely biased by the inadmissible evidence.
Clementi, just 18 years old, committed suicide in 2010 by jumping off the George Washington Bridge, bolstering a national movement to address bullying of gay and lesbian students. The incident also helped push state lawmakers to strengthen New Jersey's law against bullying and harassment in schools.
Ravi was never accused of causing Clementi's death.
Ravi faced up to 10 years in prison but was sentenced to probation plus 30 days in county jail.
Prosecutors had argued the sentencing judge overstepped his authority by imposing a sentence that was too lenient. Friday's ruling rendered that argument moot.
After the ruling Friday, Clementi's family released a statement calling for others to join their efforts to create "a kinder more empathic society." The family launched the Tyler Clementi Foundation in 2011 to combat bullying.
"We know that Tyler’s private moments were stolen from him and used to humiliate him," Jane and Joe Clementi said. "His life was forever affected and the lives of those who knew and loved him have been forever changed."
The judges on the appellate panel noted Friday that the prosecutor tried to show that Ravi “was a homophobic, computer savvy young man who combined these two features of his character to prey upon his socially awkward, gay roommate.”
But to prove their case, prosecutors used Clementi’s “reserved demeanor and expressions of shame and humiliation as a counterweight to defendant's cavalier indifference and unabashed insensitivity to his roommate's right to privacy and dignity.”
“It is unreasonable to expect a rational juror to remain unaffected by this evidence,” the panel said. "We can never be reasonably confident that the verdict produced was free from the adulterated influence of the inadmissible evidence."
The court's decision was based on a 2015 state Supreme Court ruling that struck down part of the state's bias crime law as unconstitutional, rendering state-of-mind evidence inadmissible.
The decision, however, did slam Ravi and others involved in the webcam incidents.
"The social environment that transformed a private act of sexual intimacy into a grotesque voyeuristic spectacle must be unequivocally condemned in the strongest possible way," the judges said.
"The fact that this occurred in a university dormitory, housing first-year college students, only exacerbates our collective sense of disbelief and disorientation. All of the young men and women who had any association with this tragedy must pause to reflect and assess whether this experience has cast an indelible moral shadow on their character."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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