Former student in Rutgers suicide case faces February trial

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 20, 2011 4:03 PM
Former student in Rutgers suicide case faces February trial

By Jonathan Allen

NEW BRUNSWICK, New Jersey (Reuters) - A former Rutgers University student accused of spying on his roommate with a webcam has turned down a plea deal that would have sent him to prison for five years, his attorneys said on Thursday.

Dharun Ravi, 19 is charged with bullying his roommate Tyler Clementi for being gay by loading images of Clementi's romantic encounter with another man on a friend's computer.

Clementi killed himself a few days later by jumping off the George Washington Bridge on September 22, 2010.

If convicted of the most serious charges in New Jersey's Middlesex County Superior Court, Ravi could be sentenced to as much as 10 years in prison.

Under the proposed plea agreement, originally made in May, prosecutors would have sought a three- to five-year prison sentence if Ravi pleaded guilty to six of the 15 charges against him. The charges include bias intimidation and privacy invasion.

Ravi, dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and black striped tie, spoke at the hearing on Thursday only to say he understood the plea offering.

His attorneys said he was not interested in taking the deal, and Judge Glenn Berman set a trial date of February 21, 2012.

The judge also ruled that Ravi should be allowed to learn the identity of the other man in the romantic encounter. Ravi's attorneys have sought that information, saying they need to know in order to defend their client fully.

Prosecutors have not made the man's identity public, and he is referred to in court documents only as M.B.

In court papers, M.B., who apparently met Clementi online, said he has an "overwhelming" fear that release of his identity will lead to a "total invasion" of his privacy.

Clementi's suicide has drawn widespread media attention as a tragic example of bullying and gay teenagers killing themselves.

The judge placed tight restrictions on the disclosure of his identity, ordering that M.B.'s name and date of birth be given only to Ravi, his attorney and his attorney's investigator, who are bound not to disclose these details to anyone else.

"An innocent young man doesn't want to be involved in this situation but is," M.B.'s attorney Richard Pompelio said after the hearing.

Prosecutors say Ravi, along with some friends, maliciously spied on Clementi using a webcam attached to his computer in the room they shared and bullied Clementi for being gay.

Ravi's defense has said his client had no problem with Clementi's homosexuality, and the webcam images were never put online or stored.

The defense has also suggested there is evidence that Ravi's actions played an insignificant role in the despair that caused Clementi to kill himself.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Jerry Norton)