Burden of Proof: Did Prosecutors Meet It? Analysis By Chris Cuomo
The prosecutor rested its case today in the webcam spy trial of Rutgers University student Dharun Ravi. The state's case lasted nine days, consisting of a score of witnesses and a thick stack of computer emails, tweets and instant messages into evidence.
The case stems from circumstances surrounding the 2010 suicide of Tyler Clementi. Ravi, who was Clementi's roommate, is not charged in any way with Clementi's death. But he is charged with invasion of privacy, witness tampering, hindering prosecution and, most importantly, bias intimidation, a hate crime for which Ravi faces up to 10 years in prison.
Initial media reports described a videotaped encounter secretly recorded by Ravi that went viral. They were false. Many believe these inaccurate reports sparked public outcry and prematurely made Ravi the national poster boy for gay-bashing and cyber-bullying.
So, did the state make its case against Ravi?
Of course, that is a question subject to the vagaries of jury deliberations, but there are some objective points of analysis that shed light on a potential outcome. Bottomline: an ABC legal analyst, who have been scrutinizing each day of the highly publicized trial believe prosecutor Julia McClure was effective in supporting some of the state's charges, but comes up short on the most serious accusations.
"The prosecutor has presented a very good case as to invasion of privacy, a decent case as to hindering apprehension and witness tampering, and a bare bones case for bias intimidation," said John Fahy, former New Jersey prosecutor who is now a criminal defense attorney.
From Superior Court Judge Glen Berman's point of view, the state's case proved at least worthy enough to give to a jury. He denied a motion by defense co-counsel Philip Nettl to dismiss several of the counts for lack of evidence.
Defense attorney Steven Altman too gets high marks from the two analysts, who say his cross examinations of state's witnesses have provided convincing testimony that Ravi is not a homophobe, but a teenager who is an immature computer geek.
"Altman has been very good in his cross-examinations," Fahy said. "He showed that Ravi was not homophobic and was a typical college student.
Robert Honecker, also a former prosecutor agrees: "A good defense attorney exploits each and every weakness in the State's case. Altman has been very good doing that up to now. Expect him to be even better in the defense case."
With each witness, key points have been scored by opposing lawyers, setting up what could be a long and difficult jury deliberation. In terms of what the jury has to go on from the trial, here is what we know:
On Sept. 19, 2011 Ravi used a friend's computer to remotely and briefly access his webcam computer, located in the dorm room Ravi and Clementi shared, to capture Clementi and his 30-year-old companion – identified only as M.B.
Ravi and his friend, Molly Wei saw the two men kissing with their shirts off. Shocked at the sight, they turned off the webcam after viewing it for just a few second Ravi tried to capture a second broadcast on Sept. 21 and invited friends to view it from their own computers. That attempt didn't come to fruition. There are two versions for why not: Ravi says he disabled the camera; the prosecutor says Clementi disabled the camera, a meaningful difference in determining intent.
On that same day, Clementi officially asked for a room change, telling university officials Ravi was spying on him.
On Sept. 20, Clementi viewed Ravi's computer Tweets from the previous day: "Roommate asked for the room til midnight. I went into Molly's room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay!"
On Sept. 21, Clementi requested a room change and read another Ravi Tweet: "Anyone with iChat, I dare you to video chat me between the hours of 9:30-12. Yes, it's happening again."
On Sept. 22, Clementi leaped to his death from the George Washington Bridge.
Those are the bare-bones, corroborated highlights of the case. But the critical question that remains unanswered is: why did Ravi do this? Consistent with their opening statements, the state is attempting to prove Ravi's actions were motivated by a gay bias and intention to intimidate Clementi, while the defense are establishing a record that Ravi is not a homophobe and, in fact, liked his roommate.