The trial of Rutgers student Dharun Ravi began Friday, with the focus on both sides not on the facts of the case -- he's accused of bias intimidation for using a webcam to spy on his gay roommate, Tyler Clementi, who later committed suicide -- but on the intentions of the defendant. As The New York Times's Richard Perez-Pena reports, "The crucial questions in the trial ... are not about what happened involving him and his roommate ... but why." The prosecutor's opening arguments sought to portray Ravi as motivated by an anti-gay bias while the defense argued he was merely curious as to what his roommate was up to, and not hateful or intimidating. As a wonderfully reported New Yorker article last month showed, the facts of the case show Ravi's intentions and Clementi's reactions to be extremely complex. Both prosecutors and defense will have ample pieces of evidence to paint their picture.
A conviction of bias intimidation for Ravi could come with a sentence of 10 years in prison, and because Ravi was born in India, he also might face deportation. But at least for now, he seems to have won the day: The first witness, a classmate whom Ravi told he wanted to use his webcam to spy on his roommate, says, in the words of the AP, "he didn't seem to have a problem with homosexuality."
In a case that's as much about intentions as actions, that's a key point, but only one early piece of testimony in a trial that's expected to last several weeks.