- (Photo: Reuters/Mark Dye)
The Tyler Clementi cyber-bullying trial began Tuesday with the selection of jurors, but the case against the defendant, Dahrun Ravi, may be harder to prove than previously thought.
"Pressure from gay rights groups, and global media attention made this case one that had to be prosecuted," a former New Jersey prosecutor, Robert Honecker told ABC News. "Yet the charges themselves are very difficult to prove."
The Tyler Clementi cyber-bullying trial revolves around Ravi, who allegedly watched his then-roommate, Tyler Clementi engage in homosexual activity via a webcam in their dorm at Rutgers University. Three days later, Clementi committed suicide by jumping off of the George Washington Bridge in New Jersey.
Although a judge has ruled that Ravi cannot be held accountable for Clementi's suicide, the charges stacked against him are still very serious; invasion of privacy, witness tampering, hindering prosecution and bias intimidation, could see Ravi receive anything up to 10 years in state prison if he is found guilty.
Despite the potential sentence, though, Ravi seems confident that he will not be charged. The evidence surrounding him - consisting mostly of social media postings and witness testimonies - may not be enough to charge him with anything.
Ravi even rejected a plea deal that would have given him 600 hours of community service, counseling, and assurance that he would not be deported, as he is an Indian citizen.
"The fact that the prosecution offered this plea deal in the first place indicates that they are worried that they might have a tough time in court," said John Fahy, another former N.J. prosecutor about the Clementi trial.
The prosecution certainly does have its work cut out for them. They have to prove that Ravi intended to maliciously intimidate Clementi based on the boy's sexual orientation.
This could be problematic for the prosecution, as Ravi wrote to Clementi before his death: "I've known you were gay and I have no problem with it. In fact one of my closest friends is gay and he and I have a very open relationship. … I don't want your freshman year to be ruined because of a petty misunderstanding, it's adding to my guilt."
The misunderstanding Ravi spoke of was his peek at his roommate with a 25-year-old man, identified only as M.B. The mystery man, who will testify at trial, was allegedly viewed for "literally two seconds" before Ravi shut off the webcam, according to Molly Wei, a key witness.
In addition, Clementi himself, after finding out about Ravi's spying, was largely dismissive of it in a conversation with a friend online.
"Doesn't seem soooo bad lol," he told Yang, a friend. "But it's not like he left the cam on or recorded or anything. He just like took a five sec peep lol."
"I mean aside from being an a--h--- from time to time, he's a pretty decent roommate," Clementi posted on a website, JustUsBoys.com.
Former N.J. prosecutor Fahy has indicated that the apparent lack of homophobia or hatred on Ravi's part is obvious in Clementi's responses.
"The fact that Clementi knew about the webcam incident and didn't seem to really care in his messages could make it hard to establish that he was intimidated," Fahy said.
The Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office has declined to comment on any aspect of the case.