Prosecutors looking into Tyler Clementi suicide indicated yesterday that they might not be able to charge Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei with a hate crime. Middlesex County Prosecutor Bruce Kaplan told the Newark Star-Ledger that his office was trying to see if they could charge Ravi and Wei with a second degree bias crime, but so far they don’t have enough evidence to support such a charge.
Right now, Ravi and Wei are charged with invasion of privacy, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in jail.
Given that some people have pushed for prosecution that goes all the way up to homicide charges, the possibility that Ravi and Wei won’t be charged with a hate crime (or burned at the stake, or whatever the hell will satisfy people’s revenge impulse) will disappoint many — perhaps including prosecutor Kaplan, who said: “Sometimes the laws don’t always adequately address the situation. That may come to pass here.”
And sometimes the public’s outrage completely outstrips the actual crime committed. I’ve already shared my thoughts about Dharun Ravi’s crime. Now let’s take a closer look at Molly Wei — a girl who, as far as we know, is guilty of letting a high school buddy use her computer…
I don’t think Dharun Ravi should go to jail, but I do think that what he did was wrong and he should be punished. I really don’t think it’s beyond the pale to suggest that an 18-year-old, first-time offender, who broadcast a sex tape, receive something less than the maximum possible penalty for invasion of privacy.
But whatever you think about Ravi and his possible intentions to embarrass and humiliate his roommate, Tyler Clementi, do those views really extend to Molly Wei? Here’s what we currently know about Wei’s role in this tragedy:
- Molly Wei knew Dharun Ravi from back in high school.
- Ravi went to Wei’s room after Clementi asked Ravi for some privacy.
- Arguably, Wei was one of only a few friends Ravi felt comfortable crashing with just weeks into his freshman year at college.
- From Wei’s computer, Ravi accessed his own computer, turned on the webcam, and spied and broadcast Clementi’s hook-up.
- When Clementi asked for privacy a second time, Ravi went back to Wei’s room, with the intention of broadcasting Clementi’s sex life again.
- Later, Clementi jumped off of the George Washington Bridge.
Nowhere in the fact pattern do we learn anything about Molly Wei, other than the fact that she let a friend use her computer for something that it shouldn’t have been used for. What was her role in this? We just don’t know.
The fact is, we know almost nothing about Molly Wei. Even the Star-Leger could dig up only the most banal of platitudes from alleged Wei friends who hadn’t even spoken to her all that recently:
Those who knew Wei in middle and high school said she played volleyball, sang in a choir and enjoyed many friendships.
Pooja Kolluri, also an 18-year-old Rutgers freshman, was close with Wei a number of years ago and recently got back in touch with her.
“She was really a very happy person,” Kolluri said.
The nicest possibility is that Wei was sitting on her bed, only vaguely aware of what Ravi was doing on her computer while she studied for class. The most egregious actions have her, Iago-style, whispering in Ravi’s ear, telling him to “out that queer sonofabitch,” and becoming strong off of the tears of others.
The truth is probably somewhere in between, yet based on no facts whatsoever, people are eager to believe the worst and see Molly Wei thrown in jail.
Are you kidding me? Even this Bruce Kaplan guy — a prosecutor who is (probably) involved in the highest-profile case of his life, a public official who has every reason to throw the book at these kids — is telling us that, as it stands now, he doesn’t have enough evidence to support the most horrible version of events possible. Is it not possible (even probable) that Molly Wei let her friend use her computer and that’s it?
If so, what’s the appropriate punishment for Wei? Yes, a roommate did something bad with her computer, and she probably knew that it was going on in real time. So what? Have you ever had a roommate? Have you ever willingly allowed that roommate access to your computer? Has that roommate ever searched/read/downloaded/printed/chatted/tweeted/photoshopped something with on your computer that you wouldn’t have done yourself?
What is the world we are trying to set up here? Once Molly Wei recognized that Ravi was spying on his roommate and broadcasting it live on the ‘net, she was supposed to jump off her bed, lecture him about relevant prohibitions on invasion of privacy, and demand that her high school buddy stop using her machine and/or leave her room? And because she didn’t do any of that, people want to put her in jail?
That just doesn’t make any sense. This wasn’t one buddy cruising around gay bars looking for people to beat up while the other buddy stands idly by and watches the beating. This wasn’t one friend pushing another man off a bridge while the other friend sits back and does her nails. This wasn’t even one dude date raping a girl while the other dude wingman’s the victim’s friends.
This was a friend letting another friend use her computer for something that shouldn’t have happened and then not proactively stopping that friend when things got out of hand. We put people in jail for that now? Talk about “Good Samaritan liability.”
People are rushing to judge this young woman, but I wonder how many of them, if faced with exactly the same situation when they were 18 years old, would have had the wherewithal to recognize the bad behavior and stop their friend from screwing around on their computer in real time?
Evidence may not be enough to upgrade charges against Rutgers students Dharun Ravi, Molly Wei [Newark Star-Ledger]
Friends of Dharun Ravi, Molly Wei support pair charged in Rutgers sex video case [Newark Star-Ledger]