TRENTON, New Jersey (Reuters) - More than 300 supporters of a former Rutgers University student rallied outside the New Jersey statehouse on Monday to urge leniency at his sentencing for hate crimes after he spied on his roommate’s gay tryst.
Dharun Ravi, 20, faces up to 10 years in prison when he is sentenced on May 21 in Middlesex County Court for hate crimes for invading the privacy of Tyler Clementi, 18.
Clementi committed suicide in September 2010 just three days after learning that Ravi had used a computer-mounted camera to see his encounter with an older man, identified only as “M.B.”
The case drew national attention to the controversial hate crimes law as well as issues of school bullying, social media and teen suicide.
While Ravi was not charged with causing with Clementi’s death, supporters on Monday said his conviction on all 15 charges, including hate crimes charges which heighten penalties, shows the jury improperly considered the suicide.
“The jury has let the suicide affect how they felt about the case,” said Shashi Ganjoo, a mother who joined the crowd of more than 300 people, mostly from the Indian community.
Outside the statehouse, supporters chanted “Set Dharun free!” and hoisted signs reading “Muddled Law Applied.”
The placards referred to Judge Glenn Berman’s comment during trial that, “The statute, to me, is muddled. If I had written it, I would have written it differently. But I didn’t write it. The Legislature did.”
Ravi’s mother, Sabitha Ravi, said her son was unfairly convicted.
“The media, they were there at the whole trial, they sat throughout the whole thing and they know he didn’t get a fair trial,” Sabitha Ravi said.
Inside the statehouse, several supporters met with legislators to call for the hate crimes law to be amended to focus on violent crime, where hate crimes laws traditionally have been used. Sandeet Kumar, who was at the meeting, said the push for change would continue long after Ravi’s sentencing next week in the hope that no one else faces his fate.
Aside from facing the maximum of 10 years in prison, Ravi, an Indian citizen who grew up in the United States, also faces possible deportation.
Writing by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Cynthia Osterman