Gay advocates urge no prison time for Dharun Ravi

NEW BRUNSWICK, New Jersey Mon May 21, 2012 5:26pm IST

Dharun Ravi (C), a former Rutgers University student charged with bias intimidation, sits with defense attorneys Steven Altman (R) and Philip Nettl while awaiting a verdict in his trial at the Superior Court of New Jersey in Middlesex County, New Brunswick, New Jersey March 16, 2012. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/Files

Dharun Ravi (C), a former Rutgers University student charged with bias intimidation, sits with defense attorneys Steven Altman (R) and Philip Nettl while awaiting a verdict in his trial at the Superior Court of New Jersey in Middlesex County, New Brunswick, New Jersey March 16, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Lucas Jackson/Files

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NEW BRUNSWICK, New Jersey (Reuters) - Dharun Ravi, a former Rutgers University student, faces up to 10 years in prison at his sentencing on Monday for hate crimes after spying on his roommate's gay tryst, but many gay advocates are calling for no time behind bars.

Tyler Clementi, 18, committed suicide in 2010 after learning that Dharun Ravi used a computer-mounted camera to see him kissing an older man in their dorm room and used social media to encourage others to watch.

While not charged with causing Clementi's death, Ravi was vilified for gay bullying and has since been convicted of hate crimes for targeting Clementi and invading his privacy because he was gay.

Ravi, 20, faces a maximum of 10 years in prison at his sentencing hearing on Monday in Middlesex County Superior Court in New Jersey. He could also be deported to his native India.

As the trial unfolded, what once seemed to be a clear-cut case of gay bullying gave way to a more complicated story. As a result, some gay advocates are calling on the court to give Ravi probation instead of prison time.

Among them is Aaron Hicklin, editor of Out magazine, who said in an article that Ravi was being made a scapegoat for Clementi's suicide.

Another, E.J. Graff, who writes about gay and lesbian issues, said in her column in The American Prospect, "I fear that Ravi is an easy scapegoat for a complicated problem."

Jim McGreevey, the gay former governor of New Jersey, and Dan Savage, a gay columnist, are others who say that Ravi's behavior, while wrong, is being dealt with too harshly.

At least one gay advocacy group, Garden State Equality, is pressing for prison time for Ravi, although less than the maximum 10 years.

"Justice is best served by his serving some jail time for the crime committed," Garden State CEO Steven Goldstein said. "The moderate position is not to throw the book at this young man, nor should he get off Scott free."

Much scrutiny has been focused on the prosecutor's unusual use of New Jersey's bias intimidation statute, a so-called "hate crime" law that has the effect of increasing penalties and that, experts say, is typically used in cases involving violence or the threat of it.

At a rally in support of Ravi outside the New Jersey Statehouse in Trenton last week, Bill Dobbs, a gay rights activist who attended the trial, told the crowd that Ravi was "overcharged" in the incident.

Intense interest in the case has prompted court officials preparing for Monday's sentencing to open overflow rooms to cope with the expected crowd.

The prosecution, in its sentencing recommendation, argued that Ravi be sent to prison, but not for the maximum 10 years.

Clementi's family was expected to read a victim impact statement, as is a lawyer for the older man who visited the dorm room, identified only as M.B.

Ravi's lawyers argue that he should be set free. They are appealing the verdict and asking for a new trial.

(Additional reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing By Barbara Goldberg and Doina Chiacu)

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