Last week, lawyers for the roommate of a gay Rutgers student who committed suicide in September filed briefs asking for the case against him to be dismissed.
And, as is often the case in criminal investigations, the briefs portray a more complex picture than what had been made public previously, and shed more light on what happened in the days leading up to Tyler Clementi’s suicide. It also raises more questions.
In the filings, lawyers for Dharun Ravi submitted texts and online messages written by their client and Clementi from the time they were assigned a room together until moments before the latter’s death.
What emerges is a picture of a somewhat tense relationship, with each of them seemingly making disparaging remarks about the other, as well as Ravi asserting he doesn’t care about Clementi’s sexual orientation — and that he didn’t want to ruin his roommate’s freshman year.
Ravi is charged with multiple counts of invasion of privacy, trying to deceive investigators and intimidation as a bias crime, a total of 15 counts.
The former Rutgers student (he withdrew, avoiding university disciplinary hearings) allegedly set up a webcam to view and broadcast Clementi’s encounter with another man online.
In the recently filed court documents, it appears that Ravi researched Clementi before the two met (likely after the room assignment), discovered he was gay, then discussed the topic with friends and wrote about it on Twitter.
Clementi, for his part, may not have been the innocent he’s been perceived as: He allegedly wrote sexually explicit comments online and wrote that Ravi is “sooo Indian/first gen americanish” and “his [pa]rents defs own a dunkin [Donuts].”
Another student charged in the case, Molly Wei, entered a plea deal and will testify against Ravi.
Regardless of whether Clementi was struggling with coming to terms with his sexuality or comfortable in his own skin, it’s an invasion of privacy for his roommate to set up a webcam to spy on him. And the truth is, Clementi must have been suffering for him to make the decision to commit suicide. It may not have been Ravi’s fault, but his actions that weekend may have contributed to Clementi’s state of mind.
And here’s the trouble with Ravi’s assertion that he turned on his webcam because he was worried Clementi’s visitor might steal his iPad: If that were the case, there would be no reason to broadcast it online or send out tweets directing people to go watch. Or, he could have just taken it with him.