In her view, the case unearths the ugly prejudices that many people harbor deep down but try to disguise.

She says Ravi went to elaborate lengths to set up the webcam to catch Clementi, so his transgression can’t be dismissed as a mistake in the heat of the moment. Ravi’s youth is no excuse either, she says. “Eighteen is not a kid,” she says. “He’s old enough to vote and join the Army.”

But many others see little value in sending Ravi to prison. Some argue a serious dose of community service would teach a lesson to a young man of privilege who was quick to make fun of someone different.

Perhaps he should help in homeless shelters, anti-bullying programs, or groups devoted to gay rights, they say. On May 14, hundreds of supporters rallied at the New Jersey State House in Trenton, protesting possible jail time for Ravi.

Many parents shudder in fear that their own children’s dumb missteps—recorded forever by eMails, tweets, Facebook, and YouTube, and amplified by the viral fury of the internet—could quickly ruin their lives.

Some even point to studies that show that the adolescent brain is not fully developed, and areas that govern impulse control are among the last to mature.

Bob Corcoran, a Rutgers parent, grandfather, and family lawyer in Hackensack, N.J., falls in that camp.

When he first heard the allegations against Ravi, Corcoran’s gut reaction as a father was that “this guy should go to jail forever.” But after considering the case more professionally, Corcoran says, he decided that incarceration would likely make Ravi even more aggressive. Prisons have been called breeding grounds for hate.

“He’ll say, ‘This is it, I’m a convicted felon, what are my chances for doing anything with my life? I might as well sell heroin or steal a car,'” Corcoran says. “As horrible, heinous and abhorrent as this guy’s conduct may have been, I don’t think jail time would be a deterrent to people who do stupid things.”

Even more, looking deep in his heart, Corcoran says he’s made mistakes that he’s ashamed of. “I don’t want to go through some of the stupid things I did when I was 18,” Corcoran says. “The penalty this kid is looking at far exceeds what he did.”