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Rediff.com  » News » Webcam case: Friends vouch for Ravi, say he had no anti-gay views

Webcam case: Friends vouch for Ravi, say he had no anti-gay views

Last updated on: March 10, 2012 10:33 IST

Webcam case: Friends vouch for Ravi on witness stand

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Arthur J Pais in New Jersey

During the ten days of trial in a tiny court room in New Brunswick city in Middlesex County of New Jersey, United States, defendant Dharun Ravi was seldom seen smiling but on Friday when he walked into the court room, lovingly shepherded by his father Ravi Pazhani, he was grinning from ear to ear.

Ravi Pazhani, a slight man with metal-frame glasses who has a software consultancy business in Plainsboro, New Jersey, looks shorter than he actually is when he is with his athletic looking son who could be six foot tall.

Friday happened to be the first day for the defence in the sensational trial in which Ravi, 20, the former Rutgers University student is charged with invasion of privacy, bias against gays (hate crime) and 13 other counts.

Friday also was the day in which family friends, seven men mostly in their 40s, asserted on the witness stand that they had never heard Ravi say anything against gays and lesbians.

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Image: Dharun Ravi in the courtroom
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi/Rediff.com

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Friends vouch for Ravi, say he had no anti-gay views

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Watching the proceedings as they have been doing for the last 10 days were Jane Clementi, who wore a gold crucifix, and her husband. Also joining them is their son James Clementi who looks very much like his younger brother Tyler Clementi who committed suicide in September 2010 soon after he came to know that Ravi had spied on him making out with an older man in the dorm room Clementi shared with Ravi.

Phil Nettl, one of the two defence attorneys, asked the seven Pazhani family friends two questions: "Did you ever hear (Dharun) say anything negative or derogatory about anyone perceived to be a homosexual? And "Did you ever hear (Dharun) say anything negative or derogatory about homosexuality in general?"

All said, "No."

"I never heard him say anything about homosexuals or anyone who might be homosexual," Sandeep Sharma, who runs an information technology company where Ravi was once an intern, declared.

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Image: Dharun Ravi's family and friends outside the courtroom; (extreme left) Dharun's father Ravi Pazhani
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi/Rediff.com

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Friends vouch for Ravi, say he had no anti-gay views

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When prosecutor Julia McClure cross examined the seven, all said that they did not talk to Ravi in August or September 2010, in the weeks before the webcam episode which was followed soon by the suicide of Tyler Clementi, the victim of alleged spying.

They also admitted that they had they never discussed the topic of homosexuality with Ravi.

"Why would that come up," asked Anil Kappa, a business partner of Ravi's father.

"No, we never discussed homosexuality."

The character witnesses spoke very briefly and their testimony and cross examination took little more than hour.

"I don't think I ever discussed it with him," said family friend Murugan Gnanavel.

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Image: Jane Clementi with her family
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi/Rediff.com

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Friends vouch for Ravi, say he had no anti-gay views

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And another witness Ramkumar Pandurangan said: "I don't think we ever spoke about it."

The men also testified that they did not follow Twitter and other social media favoured by Ravi.

Prosecutors have tried to portray Ravi as a technologically savvy student who hated Clementi because he was gay, and had called some of Ravi's friends to testify over the past 10 days.

Most testified that they never heard Ravi say hateful things about gays but a few said he was uneasy sharing the dorm room with a gay man.

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Image: Superior Court Judge Glenn Berman
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi/Rediff.com

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Friends vouch for Ravi, say he had no anti-gay views

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Ravi who admitted in a police interrogation before his arrest in September 2010 that he had invaded Clementi's privacy has also said he was spying because he was afraid the gay acquaintance Clementi had invited to his room might steal his (Ravi's) electronic possessions.

The defence also sought unsuccessfully to have the invasion of privacy and few other charges dismissed.

Witnesses, including Rutgers student Lokesh Ojha, have testified that Ravi initially viewed Clementi via webcam with another man on September 19 and then tried to set up the webcam again two days later, inviting his Twitter followers to watch.

Clementi saw his tweets and disconnected Ravi's computer, preventing a second viewing.

He was also for another room after the incident.

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Image: Dharun with second defence lawyer Phil Nettl (left in pic)
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi/Rediff.com

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Friends vouch for Ravi, say he had no anti-gay views

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Ravi has said he was joking about the viewing party and he had no intention of watching the sexual tryst on September 21, 2010.

Philip Nettl argued that Ravi was at Ultimate Frisbee practice on the night of September 21 and then went into a friend's room. Ravi never tried to look at his webcam that night, he added.

But Judge Glenn Berman said even if Ravi didn't look himself, he encouraged others to watch.

"You are creating the scene, you are setting up the props for other people to observe," Berman said.

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Image: Dharun Ravi in court during the hearing
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi/Rediff.com

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Friends vouch for Ravi, say he had no anti-gay views

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Defence lawyer Steve Altman then called Frank DiNinno, an investigator with the prosecutor's office, to show the jury that the investigation was biased from the start, setting out to prove that Ravi should be charged with a hate crime.

Earlier, there were incorrect reports that DiNinno was taken off the case because he was sympathetic to Ravi.

It transpired on Friday that he had interviewed 32, mostly students, before Ravi was interrogated and arrested.

"Was one of the purposes, considering you were involved with all these interviews and the investigation, to find out information which could support that my client, Dharun, had any problems with gays or homosexuals?" Altman asked in a measured tone.

"I didn't speak to a witness within this group that would have indicated that," DiNinno responded, often sounding feeble.

"Thank you for saying that, but that was one of things you were investigating weren't you?" Altman continued; his voice filled with light sarcasm.

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Image: Defence lawyer Steve Altman with investigator Frank DiNinno (seated)
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi/Rediff.com

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Friends vouch for Ravi, say he had no anti-gay views

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"We were investigating the entire thing -- so we were just gathering up facts for that entire event between the 19th and 21st [of September 2010]," DiNinno said.

Prosecutor McClure protested to the judge against the detailed questioning but for most part Altman prevailed.

"It was part of the fact-finding process, yes. We covered everything," DiNinno said.

"But that was part of the facting-finding process; it was something you wanted to learn if you could," Altman insisted.

"Yes sir."

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Image: Frank DiNinno, an investigator with the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi/Rediff.com
Tags: DiNinno , Ravi , Altman

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Friends vouch for Ravi, say he had no anti-gay views

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Ravi faces a 15-count indictment of bias intimidation as a hate crime, invasion of privacy, tampering with evidence and hindering apprehension.

In her opening statement at the start of trial on February 24, Julia McClure said Ravi targeted his freshman roommate, Tyler Clementi, because he was gay.

Ravi spied on Clementi in an intimate encounter with another man, then texted and tweeted about it to friends in an attempt to humiliate him, McClure said.

If found guilty, he could be sentenced to 10 years in prison and deported to India after serving a few years of the sentence.

 


Image: Dharun Ravi outside the courtroom
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi/Rediff.com

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