The trial of Rutgers student Dharun Ravi drew to a close today as prosecutors and defense lawyers sparred over whether Ravi's spying on his gay roommate Tyler Clementi was a criminal act by a anti-gay bigot or the "stupid" actions of an immature college freshman.
The closing summations in the webcam spying case against Ravi came after three weeks of testimony from 22 witnesses.
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 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 is not charged in connection with Clementi's death. Clementi left behind a note, but its contents have never been made public.
During the state's closing argument today, prosecutor Julie McClure repeatedly pointed out Ravi's messages to friends and Twitter followers that he had seen his roommate kissing another man on his webcam and encouraging them to see for themselves during a second date.
McClure referenced text messages and conversations Ravi had in which he talked about the spying and said he was "set up" to spy via webcam again.
His plans to spy for a second time were ultimately thwarted by Clementi, who unplugged Ravi's computer and disabled his webcam, McClure argued. She challenged Ravi's claim that he turned off the webcam himself.
She also dismissed Ravi's claim that he peeked at his roommate's date because he feared the "creepy" guest would steal his iPad. If he was that worried, he would have taken the iPad with him when he left, the prosecutor said.
In addition, she noted that Ravi's first reaction after tracking the name of his new roommate was to write to a friend, "F... my life. He's gay," something he repeated to other friends and teammates on Rutgers ultimate Frisbee team.
McClure asked the jury to imagine what it was like for Clementi, an 18-year-old freshman, to realize his roommate had spied on him and not knowing how many people may have watched.
"Three weeks into the semester and (Clementi) finds out that his sexual orientation has been broadcast to the defendant's twitter followers," McClure said. "His private sexual activities have been exposed. What do you think he's thinking? 'If Molly saw it, did Cassie see it? Did people in the hall see it? Did people in Davidson C see it?' You don't think that he was intimidated by learning that information? Fearful, embarrassed? He'd been exposed."
Ravi's attorney, Steven Altman, argued during his four-hour summation that Ravi made one innocent mistake on Sept. 19, the night of Clementi's first date: he activated his webcam for two to five seconds to keep an eye on his belongings, and was surprised to see Clementi kissing another man.
"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," Altman told the jury, claiming that Ravi reacted "immaturely" to what he saw on the screen.
The text messages and Twitter messages about a second viewing were nothing more than immature jokes, and Ravi never intended to spy for a second time, Altman argued.
Altman advised the jury that it was up to them to decide whether Ravi was "hateful and he was biased, and ugly and anti-gay and he hated his roommate," or whether he was instead "stupid, he's ignorant, maybe immature and a typical 18-year-old kid. Or is his reaction criminal."
Altman ended by playing for the jury once more the interrogation tape of Ravi meeting with police investigators after Clementi's death, apparently so the jury could see his calm demeanor while being accused by the officers of lying to them.
Ravi's lawyer went after the credibility of key witness Lokesh Ohja, a fellow Rutgers student. Ohja testified that Ravi asked his help in aiming his webcam at Clementi's bed, and that Ravi encouraged him and others to activate the webcam during Clementi's second date on Sept. 21 with a man identified only as M.B.
During questioning, Ohja admitted to lying to police during the Ravi investigation and was at times sulky during his testimony.
"Lokesh Ohja, remember how he was, slinking down in that chair, becoming defiant and disrespectful?" Altman said to the jury during his summation today. "Over and over again wouldn't give me an answer. So you've got to see whether or not they've got anything to hide, any motive in the testimony."
Altman noted that because Lokesh had admitted to lying to prosecutors, he was eager to curry favor from the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office to avoid being criminally charged.
"He himself said he was scared, when he gave statements on Oct. 29 and Nov. 18, and what he was scared of was destroying his college education because he knew he lied under oath," Altman said.
Altman also questioned the reliability of M.B., Clementi's date from the night of the alleged spying.
During his testimony, M.B. told the jury that during his and Clementi's sexual encounter, he noticed things that made him uncomfortable about being there: he saw a webcam pointed at him while he was on Clementi's bed, he heard people outside laughing and wondered if they could see into the dorm room, and he noticed people staring at him in the hall as he left the dorm.
Those observations did not amount to a feeling of intimidation, Atlman argued.
Altman attributed M.B.'s admitted discomfort to his age, and suggested that a 30-something on a college campus would naturally feel out of place.
The jury will reassemble at 9 a.m. Wednesday to hear the judge's instructions, which are expected to take about 90 minutes, before beginning deliberations over a verdict.
Ravi could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted of the most serious charges.