ORADELL, N.J. – One couple lost their teenage son to suicide in the days after his college roommate used a webcam to see him kiss another man in September 2010; the other fears their son will be sent to prison this week for doing the spying.
The parents of Tyler Clementi and Dharun Ravi, on opposite sides of a tragedy that would horrify any parents, have been in the public eye throughout the criminal case, but they've remained circumspect when choosing their public words about their predicaments and their sons.
But both families sat through nearly every minute of Ravi's four-week-long trial this year, where he was convicted in March of 15 criminal charges including invasion of privacy and tampering with evidence. And both appeared in public forums last week just before Ravi is to be sentenced for his deeds. The two most serious counts — bias intimidation — could get him up to 10 years in prison, though prosecutors have said that the maximum penalty is not necessary.
A sentence of more than a year would also increase the likelihood that federal immigration authorities will try to deport Ravi to India, where he was born and remains a citizen, though he has lived most of his life in New Jersey.
The case has turned both Clementi and Ravi, who for just three weeks a dorm room shared they were randomly assigned, into widely known symbols. Clementi is seen as an example of what can happen to young gays who are too often bullied even as acceptance of gays has increased. Ravi has been portrayed as a young man victimized by overzealous prosecutors who reacted to a tragedy by piling on charges. In their choices of where to appear, each couple has supported the symbolic perception of its own son.
A judge is to decide Ravi's sentence Monday during what's sure to be an emotional court hearing, including statements from people close to Clementi. Ravi's lawyer said Friday that it was not yet decided whether Ravi will speak.
Ravi's parents, who granted just a few interviews after their son was convicted last month, attended a rally last week at New Jersey's State House in Trenton. Several hundred supporters, nearly all of them Indian or Indian-American like them and their 20-year-old son, called for Ravi to be kept out of prison and for reforms to hate-crime laws that some of the same people rallied in favor of supporting two decades ago.
The protesters said Ravi, an Ultimate Frisbee player and computer whiz who was studying economics, should not have been convicted of hate crimes because he does not hate gay people and that prison is too harsh a punishment for someone who did not mean to hurt anyone.
Ravi's father did not speak at the rally. And his mother, Sabitha Ravi, thanked supporters but mostly chose to aim her words at the journalists who were there, saying those who covered the trial should speak up against her son getting being sent to prison. "You were quiet there. Why don't you wake up now and bring some justice for Dharun?" she asked.
When asked about how her family and her son were doing, she didn't have much to say: "You can all understand what he's going through," she said.
Clementi's parents have communicated with the public mostly through written statements or reading prepared statements after court proceedings. In one, they said that they wanted Ravi to be held accountable but that he need not be subject to a "harsh" punishment.
They did grant a handful of interviews, including one with The Associated Press, in December as they announced the launch of a foundation to honor their son. Then, they talked about how he had come out to gay to them days before he started at Rutgers.
In a handful other public appearances, they have spoken mostly about the work they intend to do through the foundation, which is focusing on promoting online civility, preventing bullying and encouraging the acceptance of gays and others perceived to be different.
On Thursday night, they attended a community theater preview production of "The Laramie Project," a play about fallout of the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student who was tied to a fence, savagely beaten and left for dead in a horrific case that led to hate-crime laws around the country.
The Clementis joined a panel discussion after the performance by the Bergen County Players. But they declined to say what sentence they believe Ravi should receive.
Instead, they spoke about the power of the play they had just seen. Joe Clementi said that people should take friends who are not accepting of those with differences to see productions of it.
"There are more of us people that think the way we think than there are people who are the haters," he said.
He also said that that his son's plight had echoes of the Matthew Shepard case. "The circumstances were different," he said. "The effect was the same."
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