Tyler Clementi targeted by Ravi, prosecution says
Seven months after Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi committed suicide, the prosecution's 15-count indictment against his roommate, Dharun Ravi, includes charges as serious as witness and evidence tampering and bias intimidation, elevating it to a hate crime.
Clementi jumped off the George Washington Bridge last fall, CBS News Correspondent Elaine Quijano reported, after Ravi and his girlfriend, Molly Wei, allegedly streamed live video of Clementi's sexual encounter with another man online and described it on Twitter.
On September 19, Ravi wrote, "Roommate asked for the room till midnight. I went into Molly's room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay."
That message was followed by one on September 21that said, "Yes It's happening again."
Prosecutors say Ravi knowingly targeted Clementi because he was gay and tried to mislead investigators by erasing text messages and telling friends not to cooperate.
In a statement, Clementi's family said, "The grand jury indictment spells out cold and calculated acts against our son Tyler."
As for the charges, CBS News Legal Analyst Lisa Bloom said, "The idea here is to send a message that we take this seriously. These are criminal actions and they warrant criminal charges."
The case sparked national outrage and attention, prompting lawmakers to introduce new anti-bullying legislation.
Kerry Eleveld, a gay rights advocate, told CBS News, "Passing some sort of legislation like that would send a message across the nation that you can't engage in this type of activity, and not end up suffering some type of consequence for it."
On campus Wednesday, news of the charges received a mixed reaction.
Rutgers student Aakash Dalal said, "What the two kids did to Tyler Clementi was definitely wrong morally, but the charges, I think the judge will end up throwing most of them out."
Another student, Andrea Morocoima, said, "I don't agree with Clementi's lifestyle, but I do agree that there needs to be some kind of justice brought to the situation."
If convicted, Quijano reported, Ravi could spend up to 10 years in jail. Charges against Wei were not presented to the grand jury.
Both Ravi's and Wei's attorneys had no comment.
CBS News Legal Analyst Jack Ford said on "The Early Show" Thursday that the hate crime charge is "a big deal now."
"If I'm a defense attorney, I don't like seeing that," he explained. "The reason is, when you put the bias motivation, in New Jersey, it's not a separate crime. What it does is it enhances ... the possible penalties for the other charges. Here, the invasion of privacy charges are what are called third- and fourth-degree crimes -- (with the) maximum (possible sentence if he's convicted ranging) from nothing to five years. But, there's a presumption for a first-time offender, third- and fourth-degree offenses that you don't go to jail. The bias kicks it up to a second-degree offense, and that's important, because now, not only have you coupled the exposure up to 10 years ... but there's now a presumption, not mandatory, but a presumption, even if you're a first-time offender, if you're found guilty, we don't know what's going to happen here -- this is a first step, the presumption is that you do go to jail. So it changes the complexion of the case dramatically for the defense."
Negotiation, Ford said, will be a goal for Ravi's defense.
He explained, "First thing you do if you're his lawyer, you try to negotiate something that gets you out of that second-degree range. Because if you can put together something in the third- or fourth-degree range there, it gives you the ability to argue to the judge, 'This was a horrible tragedy, an enormous lapse of judgment on my client's part, but he doesn't belong in jail.' And you have the legal presumption that says he doesn't belong in jail. If you can get rid of that somehow, the defense attorneys, that's a big win for you."
Co-anchor Chris Wragge asked if the charges of witness and evidence tampering -- of allegedly talking with prospective witnesses and deleting text messages -- could hurt Ravi's case.
"That's a big surprise and it hurts a lot," Ford said, "because, if you have a judge on the fence saying, 'Well, you know, should I put him in jail? He is a first offender, I know this is a terrible situation. I know somebody died - even though it's not directly related criminally' -- if I'm a judge and I'm seeing that somebody's charged with obstructing justice, with tampering with evidence, you could see a judge saying, 'You know what? Ordinarily, I probably wouldn't put you in jail, but you went beyond this, and now I'm seriously considering it.' So it's not good at all for the defense."
As for Molly Wei, Ford said, "We're not hearing anything except the fact that they didn't present the charges, which suggests to me ... she's probably not cooperating with the prosecution in this case and they're just going to hold back and see how it plays out and see what happens with her case."