(NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J.) — Spying on Tyler Clementi’s gay sexual encounter was an innocent mistake by Rutgers freshman Dharun Ravi, sparked by curiosity, not maliciousness, Ravi’s attorney argued Tuesday in the closing summations of the Rutgers trial.
Ravi, 20, is on trial for allegedly invading Clementi’s privacy after he activated a webcam and saw Clementi having a gay sexual encounter in their shared Rutgers dorm room on Sept. 19, 2010. Ravi is accused of telling others about the webcam spying, and encouraging them to also watch during a subsequent Clementi date on Sept. 21.
In addition, Ravi is charged with bias intimidation, witness tampering and hindering arrest.
Clementi, an 18-year-old freshman, killed himself just days after the spying incident by jumping off the George Washington Bridge. His death and the charges against Ravi sparked public outrage over cyber-bullying and gay-bullying among students.
Ravi, however, is not charged in connection with Clementi’s death.
The defense’s summation was interrupted on Tuesday when Ravi’s attorney Steven Altman got sick while addressing the jury. He asked the judge for a few minutes, but he never returned and after a while the courtroom was emptied.
Altman said his client made an immature mistake when he activated the webcam on Sept. 19 while Clementi had an older male guest in their dorm room. When Ravi realized he was seeing a date, he turned the camera off.
Altman claims Ravi was peeking to check on his belongings because he felt that Clementi’s date, identified only by his initials M.B., was older and scruffy looking.
“If his goal was to see anything sexual, you know you would have been hearing testimony in the last three weeks from somebody (about it),” Altman told the jury. “But the webcam was on a very short time, two to five seconds, and that tells you why they went on on Sept. 19. It was curiosity, to see what’s going on, to find out what was that guy doing there.”
In a New Jersey courtroom packed with two dozen members of Clementi’s family and friends, and a handful of Ravi’s family members, Altman argued that there was no evidence that Ravi was homophobic or anti-gay. During the testimony of 22 witnesses throughout the trial, no one had said that Ravi openly disparaged his roommate or felt hatred toward him, Altman said.
When he activated the webcam in his room and saw Clementi kissing a man, he reacted with immature surprise, Altman argued.
“Why we’re here is because on Sept. 19, and Sept. 21, 2010, an 18-year-old boy, a kid, a college freshman, had an experience, had an encounter that he wasn’t ready for, he didn’t expect, he was surprised by, and he didn’t know how to deal with it because he was a kid. What you have to decide is whether he did it because he was hateful, biased, or anti-gay, or hated his roommate,” Altman said.
Following Altman’s summation, the jury will hear the state’s closing argument. The state has contended during the trial that Ravi complained to friends in emails that he was upset to find out that his college roommate was gay, and that he recruited the help of a second student to aim his webcam at Clementi’s bed for the Sept. 21 date, and invited friends to watch the encounter.
The state has also argued that Ravi tried to cover up his incriminating digital messages and tampered with a witness.
On Wednesday, Judge Glenn Berman is scheduled to give the jury instructions and let them begin deliberations. That schedule is now uncertain because of Altman’s illness.
Ravi could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted of the most serious charges.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Holly Yan and Steve Forrest, CNN
Brandon Griggs, CNN
Robert Jimison, CNN
Ashley Strickland, CNN