John O'boyle / AP
Dharun Ravi attends his trial at the Middlesex County Courthouse in New Brunswick, N.J.
NEW BRUNSWICK , N.J. -- Prosecutors built a better than expected case before resting Thursday in the trial of a former Rutgers University student accused of using a webcam to spy on a gay sexual encounter of his roommate who later committed suicide, legal experts say.
While prosecutors set a high bar for the defense starting Friday of Dharun Ravi, 20, two pivotal charges of invasion of privacy and bias intimidation remain hard to prove, the analysts told msnbc.com.
Ravi's roommate at Rutgers, Tyler Clementi, 18, killed himself on Sept. 22, 2010, after learning Ravi covertly saw him kissing another man, according to court testimony.
“The defense has an extremely large burden; the prosecution put on a good case,” said Edward Weinstein, an East Brunswick, N.J., criminal and family law attorney closely following the trial. Before the trial started, Weinstein was quoted in several media reports as saying the prosecutor's case might be weak.
Weinstein said Thursday that among facts that first came out to the public during the trial were Ravi’s tweets showing “he was not just a mischievous kid pulling a prank” by expressing distaste for Clementi’s homosexuality and inviting people to a online viewing party of Ravi’s encounter.
“The outcome totally remains to be seen,” he said.
The defense, he predicted, will not be able to ask for a dismissal.
“What will be extremely interesting is whether they put the defendant on the stand,” Weinstein said.
Ravi faces 15 counts of invasion of privacy, witness and evidence tampering and bias intimidation, which is a hate crime. If convicted, he faces the possibility of 10 years in prison. He also could be deported to India, where he was born and remains a citizen, if he's convicted on any counts, The Associated Press reported.
AFP - Getty Images
Tyler Clementi is shown in one of his Facebook profile pictures obtained September 30, 2010.
He is not charged in Clementi's suicide, which was widely portrayed in 2010 as a tragic example of bullying and the toll it too often takes on gay teenagers.
For example, television talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres addressed the issue on her show, saying, “We can’t let intolerance and ignorance take another kid’s life.” The New York Times said outrage over the Clementi case was similar to outrage over the cyber-bullying case of Phoebe Prince, a student in South Hadley, Mass., who also committed suicide that year.
Prosecutors say Ravi spied on Clementi and intimidated him for being gay. The defense says Ravi behaved childishly but did not commit any crime.
“Before the trial, it appeared Ravi was more concerned that a 30-year-old visitor [of Clementi’s] might take some of his possessions than he was about getting a view of their sexual activity,” Jack Levin, a Northeastern University professor and author of books on hate crimes, told msnbc.com. “The position of the camera became very important.”
The camera appeared to be positioned for a clear view of the bed, said Levin, who was also quoted in media before the trial as being concerned the prosecutors' case might be weak.
“That’s open to interpretation but suggests more than just an attempt to see that Ravi’s possessions were being burglarized,” Levin said, calling the evidence “one small surprise,” Levin said, noting that invasion of privacy was tough to prove when it’s inside one’s own apartment.
However, the bias intimidation charge is hard to prove because the two knew one another well, Levin said. Most hate crimes are committed by strangers who often state slurs or leave behind graffiti, he said.
About Ravi’s actions, “it becomes difficult to determine whether the motivation was due to sexual orientation or some other conflicts between the roommates that have nothing to do with sexual orientation,” Levin said.
Among those who testified for the prosecution was the man seen in the webcam with Clementi. Identified only as M.B., he said he had noticed the webcam while in a "compromising" position with Clementi.
M.B. testified he met Clementi in August 2010 through an online social network for gay men.
After learning that his roommate watched him via webcam on Sept. 19, 2010, Clementi asked the university to switch to a single room, Reuters said, citing court records.
He jumped off the George Washington Bridge three days after the webcam incident.
Other prosecution witnesses were students and friends of Ravi's, a handful of whom said they watched Clementi's encounter via webcam for a few seconds and only saw two men kissing.
Prosecutors played a videotaped interview of Ravi in which he told police he violated his roommate's privacy but meant no harm. He said he was concerned about the security of his belongings while Clementi was entertaining a visitor.
Police in the video also questioned Ravi about a Twitter posting in which he mentioned a "viewing party." Ravi said the posting had been a joke.
Ravi said he went to a friend's room and used her computer to view images from his own webcam, which he had set up to accept webchat requests automatically, The Associated Press reported.
Jurors heard about a message Ravi sent Clementi apologizing for the webcam and saying his actions had been "good natured."
This article contains reporting by msnbc.com's Jim Gold and Reuters.
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