TRENTON, NJ (CBSNewYork/AP) – A former Rutgers University freshman was indicted Wednesday on a hate crime charge after allegedly using a webcam to spy on a same-sex encounter involving his roommate, who committed suicide shortly afterward in a case that started a national conversation on bullying.
A 15-count indictment was handed up Wednesday by a Middlesex County grand jury against Dharun Ravi, of Plainsboro, who had already faced invasion of privacy charges along with another student, Molly Wei.
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The indictment charges Ravi with bias intimidation, invasion of privacy, witness and evidence tampering, and other charges stemming from the suicide of 18-year-old Tyler Clementi in September. The indictment said charges against Wei would not be presented to the grand jury “at this time.”
Clementi jumped off the George Washington Bridge into the Hudson River shortly after authorities say Ravi and Wei used a webcam to peek at his liaison. Lawyers for Ravi say the webcam stream was viewed on only a single computer and did not show the men having sex.
The indictment says Ravi targeted Clementi and invaded his privacy knowing that Clementi would be intimidated because of his sexual orientation. If convicted, Ravi could face between five to ten years on just one count.
On the Rutgers campus, it was easy to find students who thought Dharun Ravi had the 15-count indictment coming.
“If he did a crime, I guess he has to do the time,” freshman Alice Debowski said. “It’s just justice, I guess.”
“He did do something wrong, and it would be wrong to let him just go,” freshman Nive Malik said.
However, there were also plenty of students who had compassion for the former Rutgers freshman.
“He’s going to have to live with the things that happened for the rest of his life anyway, so I’m kind of mixed on further criminal charges,” senior John Aspray said.
“Personally, I think that prison is a little too harsh for him,” senior Arkady Khaykin said. “It wasn’t a murder.”
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While the indictment picked at old wounds, it came at a campus that was eager to move forward.
“I think everyone understood by this act that being a bully isn’t the way to be,” Khaykin said.
“Some positive I guess has to come out of it, where people are more aware they have to be more accepting of other people,” Debowksi said.
“We just hope going forward this is a wakeup call for all of us,” Rutgers employee Helen Pirrello said.
“This was the only conceivable way to go. This indictment, 15 counts, signifies that Dharun Ravi clearly violated New Jersey law in terms of Tyler Clementi’s invasion of privacy,” Steven Goldstein, of Garden State Equality, told 1010 WINS. “The fact that Mr. Ravi invaded Tyler Clementi’s privacy based on his perception that Tyler Clementi was gay, we believe the book should be thrown at Mr. Ravi for a heinous, heinous crime.”
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The death of Clementi, a promising violinist in his first weeks at college, came amid a string of high-profile suicides of young people who were gay or perceived to be gay.
“Those who believe this was a harmless prank should be ashamed of themselves, because that kind of attitude that leads to bullying of students in our society, and sometimes leads to death. That’s a terrible, terrible philosophy to have,” Goldstein said.
President Barack Obama and celebrities including talk show host Ellen DeGeneres and sex columnist Dan Savage have talked publicly about his death and said that young gays and lesbians need to know that life gets better.
“The grand jury indictment spells out cold and calculated acts against our son Tyler by his former college roommate. If these facts are true, as they appear to be, then it is important for our criminal justice system to establish clear accountability under law. We are eager to have the process move forward for justice in this case and to reinforce the standards of acceptable conduct in our society,” Jane and Joe Clementi said in a statement.
(TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)