Old friends are coming to the defense of a former Rutgers University student who was convicted of hate crimes for using his webcam to view his roommate and another man kissing in a case that came to symbolize bullying of gay youth.
Letters from several friends of 20-year-old Dharun Ravi were included in a Friday court filing that requests that a judge sentence him to probation rather than prison. The legal papers characterize Ravi as outgoing and not hateful, and say it would be unfair to send him to prison in part because doing so would likely mean he would face deportation to his native India.
One of the letters came from Alisa Agarwal, a Rutgers student who testified on behalf of the state at Ravi's trial earlier this year. "Although his humor may seem offensive to people who are not familiar with his personality, by experience, I can easily vouch that words have no malicious intention," she wrote. "Never could I imagine him bullying someone."
Sentencing is scheduled for May 21 for Ravi, who was convicted in March in a case that gained national attention when the roommate, Tyler Clementi, killed himself days after the spying in September 2010.
Jurors found Ravi guilty of all 15 criminal counts he faced, including bias intimidation, invasion of privacy, and tampering with evidence and a witness.
Ravi's lawyers made their appeal for leniency even as they try to persuade Judge Glenn Berman to overturn the conviction or grant him a new trial. They filed a brief earlier this week laying out that argument. Prosecutors are expected to respond to both requests in legal papers in coming weeks.
The latest filings come as public support is building for Ravi, who was portrayed by some commentators as hateful.
A "Support Ravi" event was scheduled for Friday night in Edison and a rally at the State House is being planned for later this month.
Some prominent gay pundits, including former Gov. Jim McGreevey, also have said publicly that they do not think the Plainsboro resident should be sent to prison.
Clementi's parents issued a statement last year saying Ravi should not be punished "harshly."
Ravi exposed himself to the possibility of prison when he chose to go to trial rather than accept a plea offer in which prosecutors would have recommended no jail time.
A major issue for those who say Ravi should not go to prison is the nature of the four bias intimidation charges of which he was convicted. In considering those charges, jurors were asked to consider not only the defendant's actions but also his state of mind — and the victim's. Two of the bias intimidation charges are the only ones he faced that include the presumption of incarceration, which means the judge could sentence him to probation for them, but would have to offer an explanation for deviating from sentencing guidelines.
Jurors found in one count that Ravi did not knowingly or purposefully intend to intimidate Clementi or the man he was kissing — identified in court only by the initials M.B. — but that Clementi reasonably believed Ravi meant to intimidate him. In the three other bias intimidation counts, though, jurors found that he knew he would be intimidating Clementi. And in two of the counts, he was found to have purposefully intimidated his roommate, who was assigned at random.
In Friday's legal filings, Ravi's lawyers say the spotlight — including news accounts and scholarly articles — that he was put under as an 18-year-old college freshman made him withdraw from friends. They said he received threatening calls and emails from people be believed were friends.
The filing says that Ravi, who left Rutgers but has taken some online classes through Harvard, has been hearing from old friends lately.
Some of them said it's been painful to follow the story of someone they believe was not malicious or intolerant. "Watching the news portray the events that occurred then in such as one-sided manner has given the media the power to pit a very gullible audience against someone they've never met before," wrote Solange Moran, a friend who has known Ravi since both were in sixth grade.
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