U.S. student awaits hate crimes sentence recommendation

Reuters News

5/9/2012 1:15:36 PM - Reuters News

By Jonathan Allen

(Reuters) - Dharun Ravi, convicted of hate crimes for spying on his roommate's gay encounter at Rutger's University, will learn this week what punishment prosecutors will seek as he awaits sentencing in the high-profile case.

Defense attorneys for Ravi, 20, have asked for a retrial, hoping to overturn his conviction in March after a trial that put a national spotlight on gay bullying and teen suicide.

Ravi's roommate, Tyler Clementi, 18, killed himself three days after learning his September 2010 tryst was seen by a computer-mounted camera Ravi set up in the room he shared with Clementi.

Ravi was found guilty of hate crimes for encouraging others to watch by accessing the webcam from their own computers by talking to them, sending Internet instant messages and posting a Twitter note saying he saw his roommate "making out with a dude." He was not charged with causing Clementi's death.

Convicted of all 15 charges against him, including two counts of bias intimidation, commonly called a hate crime, Ravi faces a possible 10 years in prison at his sentencing on May 21. He also faces possible deportation, as he grew up in the United States but is an Indian citizen.

Prosecutors are due to provide their sentencing recommendations by Thursday, according to a spokesman who declined to say whether they would seek a prison sentence.

Ravi could avoid prison if Judge Glenn Berman rules there are exceptional circumstances in the case.

One prominent voice of support has come from former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey, who says Ravi should not be made a "scapegoat" and prison would not cure him of bias against gays.

"Ravi isn't the only one to blame," he wrote in an online opinion piece last month, "and America, particularly the gay community, ought to be a force for transcendent change, not merely eye-for-an-eye punishment."

McGreevey resigned the governor's office in 2004 after admitting an extramarital affair with a man and has been studying to become an Episcopal priest.

Seeking a retrial, defense attorneys claim the judge failed to properly instruct the jury in Middlesex County Superior Court. They also are seeking probation, not prison, for Ravi, who has no previous record.

The defense is arguing his conviction on bias intimidation was an "extraordinary and unprecedented" use of hate crime laws, which are typically applied in violent crimes.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst, Barbara Goldberg and Vicki Allen)