NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. -- Opening statements Friday in the trial of a former Rutgers student accused of using a webcam to spy on his roommate making out with another man focused on whether the defendant was malicious or just an 18-year-old boy acting his age.
First Assistant Middlesex County Prosecutor Julia McClure told jurors that Dharun Ravi deliberately planned to invade Tyler Clementi's privacy "and to deprive him of his dignity." Ravi's defense lawyer, Steven Altman, said that wasn't true: "He may be stupid at times," Altman said. "He's an 18-year-old boy, but he's certainly not a criminal."
Now 19, Ravi faces 15 criminal charges, including invasion of privacy and bias intimidation, a hate crime punishable by up to 10 years in state prison.
Clementi, 18, killed himself by leaping off the George Washington Bridge a few days after the September 2010 incident and the case spurred a national conversation about how young gays are treated.
In her half-hour opening statement, McClure did not mention Clementi's suicide.
But she said that Ravi's actions were intended to victimize his roommate. "They were planned to expose Tyler Clementi's sexual orientation and they were planned to expose Tyler Clementi's private sexual activity," she said.
Altman said his client saw only seconds of images of Clementi and another man hugging.
"Dharun never intimidated anybody, you'll see that," Altman said. "He never transmitted any images. He never harassed his roommate, he never ridiculed his roommate, he never said anything bad about his roommate."
That's a position McClure tried to dispel preventatively. "The defendant's acts were not a prank, they were not an accident and they were not a mistake," she said. "They were mean-spirited, they were malicious and they were criminal."
She also said Ravi began telling friends that he was unhappy he'd have a gay roommate soon after he received his Rutgers housing assignment in August 2010.
The first witness called by prosecutors was Austin Chung, a high school friend of Ravi's who testified that Ravi told him about seeing Clementi "making out with some dude" via webcam.
On cross-examination from Altman, Chung said he didn't know Ravi to have a problem with gay people.