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Letter-writers beseech judge to spare man prison in gay-bullying case

The letters came from a man who was once beaten with a baseball bat in a racially motivated attack, the widow of a Minnesota judge, a group representing lesbian, gay and transgendered people from South Asia, a gay member of the Navy and the father of a woman who committed suicide, among others.

There were more than 100 in all, and nearly all had the same theme: telling the judge it would be unjust to put former Rutgers student Dharun Ravi in prison for using a webcam to watch roommate Tyler Clementi kissing another man in 2010, just days before Clementi killed himself.

"I learned a lot about bias crimes and bullying through this case," said a writer named Louise. "The bullying and bias acts occurred when the legal system and media got involved. Ravi is not to blame for the hardships endured by the gay community nor should he be tied to the whipping post because of it. If Tyler was not gay, this would have been just a prank gone wrong and no one would have rushed to incarcerate."

Ravi, now 20, was convicted in March of 15 criminal counts, including bias intimidation and invasion of privacy.

Soon after that, the letters began pouring into Superior Court Judge Glenn Berman's chambers, making requests for how to handle sentencing. Ravi faced up to 10 years in prison.

Last week, Berman told him he would have to serve 30 days in jail. Because the sentence is less than a year, it decreases the chances that federal immigration authorities will seek to have Ravi deported to India, where he was born and where he remains a citizen. Prosecutors said they would appeal the sentence as too light.

Sandeep Sharma, a friend of Ravi's family, said he thinks the letters were one factor in the relatively light sentence. "It had probably some influence," Sharma said. "I think the judge himself did not believe that this case belonged to the criminal court system to begin with."

Just three of the letters called on the judge to give Ravi a stiff penalty.

Most of the letters came from people who thought Ravi had made a terrible mistake -- but did not deserve to spend time prison.

Some thought the media and public opinion had punished him already. Some said prosecutors were overzealous and others said Ravi, because he is Indian, was the victim of discrimination.