An Indian-origin student who was found guilty of bias intimidation for spying on his gay roommate's sexual encounter has asked a judge to grant him probation instead of a prison sentence, even as letters of support from his friends and family were submitted in court.
Dharun Ravi, 20, is scheduled to be sentenced on May 21 and faces up to 10 years in prison and possible deportation to his native India.
As the sentencing date approaches, Ravi's lawyers Steven Altman and Philip Nettl have stepped up efforts to get their client's conviction either overturned or to get him a probation sentence instead of jail time and deportation.
The attorneys submitted a 33-page memorandum in the Superior Court of New Jersey today "seeking a non-custodial period of probation" for Ravi.
They said Ravi would "respond affirmatively to probationary treatment" and the sentencing court should take into consideration whether the imprisonment would mean a "serious injustice" to Ravi.
The lawyers said his client is as American as any other 20-year old college student who was born here and he should not be deported to India, a country where he has not lived for 15 years.
In the papers lawyers said it would be unfair to send him to prison as that would likely mean he would face deportation to India. Ravi also does not have any criminal record and the Indian community feels he has been "treated unfairly."
Following a nearly three-week trial in March, Ravi was found guilty on bias intimidation and invasion of privacy charges for using a webcam and spying on his Rutgers University roommate Tyler Clementi, who later committed suicide in September 2010.
Ravi, an 18-year old college student at the time of the incident, has been portrayed as an "evil and hate-mongering monster" during the trial and has now become the "face of cyber-bullying and homophobia," the lawyers said.
"Dharun was forced to quit school, subject to hateful emails and diatribes on blogs and cannot maintain any form of anonymity. This is no ordinary offense or sentencing, rather the vilification of Dharun Ravi which has been broadcast worldwide that brought an anonymous 18-year old freshman forever into the bullying discussion," they said.
The memo submitted by the lawyers includes "character letters" from over a dozen of Ravi's school friends and members of his family that describe him as a caring and friendly person and not someone who would bully others or hates homosexuals.
One of Ravi's friends, Mohini Singal said Ravi loved to joke around with people, though his humour could sometimes be sarcastic. "Never did he have any intentions to injure anyone" and he never shied away from apologising when his comments inadvertently offended anyone.
Singal said when Ravi set up the web cam in his dorm room, it must not have been to intimidate Clementi but rather to show people what he could do with computers.
"He was careless with his actions but not at all malicious. He is not an evil or vicious person. He is a regular teen who played a prank that got out of control," Singal said.
Some of Ravi's friends termed as "extremely unfair" the portrayal of Ravi as a "monster" by the media. "It is extremely unfair how he is being portrayed as such by the media because people who do not know Dharun at all only know him the way the media has been showing him."
Ravi's mother Sabitha said when the incident happened and "the media was ripping him apart with the misleading facts and statements people made about his moral values, he really broke into pieces."
Alisa Agarwal, who had testified for the State during the trial, said Ravi's humour may seem offensive to people who are not familiar with his personality but "I can easily vouch that words have no malicious intentions. Never could I imagine him bullying someone."
The lawyers said Ravi received threatening calls and emails from people he believed were friends. Ravi had left Rutgers but has taken some online classes through Harvard.
While some of his friends had withdrawn from him, they are now speaking out in his support.
"Watching the news portray the events that occurred then in such as one-sided manner has given the media the power to pit a very gullible audience against someone they've never met before," wrote Solange Moran, a friend who has known Ravi since both were in sixth grade.
Another friend of Ravi's from eighth grade, Cameron Erdogan said he becomes "deeply emotional" to hear people saying that Ravi should be sent to jail and that he deserves no mercy for what he did.
"Dharun is a good person and I know this for a fact. He cares about people. He is not hateful and not a bully and does not deserve to be painted as such," Erdogan said.
Support for Ravi has been building as the sentencing date approaches. The Indian American community organised a "Support Ravi" event in Edison and a rally at the State House is being planned for later this month.
The 'Support Dharun Ravi Committee' aims to "use legal, democratic and peaceful ways to drum up support so that legislators, politicians and public officials start noticing what's wrong with this law."
The committee feels the punishment should fit the crime and the verdict handed down to Ravi is "improper". It is demanding that Ravi should have no jail time and not be deported from America.
The committee has also sent a petition to the Obama administration protesting the inappropriate use of the bias law in the case. The target is to get 25,000 signatures in four weeks for that petition and that 14,000 were collected.