The lawyer for an Indian student accused of spying on his roommate's homosexual tryst on Friday said his client acted in a "childish and immature" manner but prosecutors countered saying his acts were "mean spirited and criminal", and aimed at exposing his fellow freshman as gay.
The trial of 19-year-old Dharun Ravi, a former Rutgers University student, began in New Brunswick, New Jersey near New York, with both sides making their opening statements.
Ravi has pleaded not guilty to charges of bias intimidation and invasion of privacy of his roommate Tyler Clementi, 18. He had used a webcam to spy on Clementi, who later jumped to his death from the George Washington bridge in September 2010.
The most serious count against him is bias intimidation, a hate crime, which carries a potential sentence of 10 years in prison. If convicted, Ravi could also face deportation to India.
Ravi's lawyer Steven Altman told the court his client had no intentions of intimidating Clementi and neither did he have any dislike for gays.
"We do stupid things, we make mistakes, especially when we're young — it doesn't mean we're hateful, we're bigoted or we're criminal," Altman said.
"In fact, Dharun never intimidated anyone. He never committed a hateful crime. He's not homophobic. He's not anti-gay."
Altman stressed that Ravi was a young person just out of high school and is "a boy, childish, at times immature. He was 18."
Closing his 30-minute opening statement, Altman said Ravi is "not hateful. He's not a bigot. At 18, he didn't have enough experience in life to know about being gay or homosexuality. When we get done here, you are going to see he might be stupid at times, he is certainly not a criminal."
Prosecutors, however, countered saying Ravi acted on purpose and wanted to "brand Tyler as different from everybody else... as gay to set him up for contempt.
"The defendant's acts were not a prank, they were not an accident and they were not a mistake," first assistant prosecutor for Middlesex County Julia McClure told the jury in her opening statement.
"These acts were purposeful, they were intentional and they were planned. They were mean-spirited, they were malicious, and they were criminal. Those acts were meant to cross one of the most sacred boundaries of human privacy, engaging in private sexual human activity."
McClure said Ravi's conduct is not about him having to like his roommate's sexual orientation.
"This is about Dharun Ravi having the decency to respect it and to respect Tyler's dignity and privacy and the defendant did not do that."
Altman argued that the spying through the webcam lasted just two to five seconds, and it showed nothing more than two men kissing.
"Nobody ever broadcast anything. Nobody transmitted anything. Nobody recorded anything. Nobody reproduced any image of anything," Altman said.
Altman stressed Ravi never harassed or ridiculed his roommate, and nor did he say "anything bad" about Clementi. He added that Ravi thought Clementi was a "nice guy. He never had a problem with him."