Conviction overturned for Tyler Clementi's ex-roommate

NEW BRUNSWICK — A state appeals court has overturned the conviction of Dharun Ravi, the Rutgers University student who was found guilty of bias intimidation when he spied in September 2010 on his roommate, Tyler Clementi, having romantic encounters with another man.

Clementi jumped off the George Washington Bridge days later. Ravi was not tried for Clementi's death.

In a written statement, Clementi's parents, Joe and Jane Clementi, wrote that the decision "shows us how much more work there is to be done, and will push us forward with stronger determination to create a kinder, more empathetic society where every person is valued and respected."

"Joe and I are not legal experts so we cannot interpret the law," the statement continued. "All we can do is try to understand and deal with are the facts as we know them now.

"We know that Tyler’s private moments were stolen from him and used to humiliate him. His life was forever affected and the lives of those who knew and loved him have been forever changed."

The Clementis said that Friday's court ruling is a reminder "we will do what we encourage all people to do before they push that send button, and that is to pause and consider the implications of their message. Does it encourage and build someone up or does it destroy and harm another person? Our world moves very fast which pushes us to be impulsively spontaneous and sometimes harsh."

The Clementis said they "will continue to work even harder sharing Tyler’s story through the Tyler Clementi Foundation and our many partners."

In 2012, Ravi was convicted in Middlesex County Superior Court on 15 counts of bias intimidation, invasion of privacy, tampering with evidence and hindering apprehension. He faced up to 10 years in prison, but Judge Glenn Berman sentenced Ravi to 30 days in in the Middlesex County Adult Corrections Center, ordered him to perform 300 hours of community service, ordered him to attend counselling on cyber-bullying and alternate lifestyles, and fined him $10,000 that would be allotted to an organization that provides assistance to victims of bias crimes.

Ravi ended up serving 20 days in the county jail, receiving 10 days' credit for good behavior. He was released from county jail in June 2012.

The Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office also filed an appeal, arguing that Ravi's sentence was too lenient  but that appeal has been rendered moot because the convictions have been overturned.

The state appeals court threw out Ravi's conviction and remanded the case to Superior Court because the bias intimidation law, under which he was convicted, has been ruled unconstitutional by the New Jersey Supreme Court.

The appeals court, in a 61-page decision, said that the evidence presented by the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office during the trial "tainted" the jury's verdict.

The appeal court also said that the evidence the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office presented at the trial to prove the bias intimidation charges "permeated the entire case against (Ravi), rendering any attempt to salvage the convictions under the remaining charges futile."

"The (prosecution) used evidence revealing (Clementi's) reserved demeanor and expressions of shame and humiliation as a counterweight to (Ravi's) cavalier indifference and unabashed insensitivity to his roommate's right to privacy and dignity," the appeal court wrote.

In declaring the bias intimidation law unconstitutional, the state Supreme Court said that it focused on the victim's perception, not the defendant's intent, a violation of the 14th Amendment.

A spokesman for the Tyler Clementi Foundation said the organization would have no comment on the court's decision.

The appeals court, however, criticized what Ravi had done.

"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 court wrote. "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 appeals court has remanded the case for a new trial in Superior Court.

Contributing: Staff Writer Susan Loyer

Follow Mike Deak on Twitter: @MikeDeakMyCJ


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