(NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J.) — Jury selection begins Wednesday in a New Brunswick, N.J., courtroom for the trial of Dahrun Ravi, the Rutgers University student who, with a silent flip of his laptop webcam secretly watched his roommate in a moment of gay intimacy, and unwittingly set in motion a series of events that would make him a national symbol of cyberbullying.
The trial, which will be broadcast live across the country and as far away as India, will culminate a criminal prosecution that many believe would never have happened if not for the fact that Tyler Clementi, Ravi’s gay roommate, jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge on Sept. 22, 2010 — just three days after Ravi electronically captured him kissing a man in his dorm room.
While authorities were only beginning their investigation, the media and public readily connected the dots, and Clementi’s death struck a growing anti-bullying nerve in America and became a blog-driven lightning rod for outrage in the gay community.
Although the court of the public opinion condemned Ravi in the immediate aftermath of Clementi’s death, two former New Jersey prosecutors say it will be a much more challenging case in the court of law.
“Pressure from gay rights groups, and global media attention made this case one that had to be prosecuted,” former New Jersey prosecutor Robert Honecker said. “Yet the charges themselves are very difficult to prove.”
Ravi, now 19, faces up to 10 years in state prison if he is convicted on the multiple counts of invasion of privacy, witness tampering, hindering prosecution and bias intimidation.
He rejected a plea deal in December that would have allowed him to serve no jail time, but require him to perform 600 hours of community service and receive counseling. The state also assured Ravi, an Indian citizen, that they would recommend to immigration officials that he not be deported.
“The fact that the prosecution offered this plea deal in the first place indicates that they are worried that they might have a tough time in court,” said John Fahy, another former New Jersey prosecutor familiar with the case.
Referring to why his client rejected the plea deal, Ravi’s attorney Steven Altman said, “Simple answer, simple principal. He’s innocent. He’s not guilty. That’s why he rejected the plea.”
The Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office has declined to comment on any aspect of the case.
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