Student in Rutgers suicide sought new roommate after spying

Reuters News
Posted: Feb 27, 2012 3:37 PM
Student in Rutgers suicide sought new roommate after spying

By Jonathan Allen

NEW BRUNSWICK, New Jersey (Reuters) - A Rutgers student who committed suicide after his roommate spied on his homosexual tryst with a webcam had sought a new roommate a day before killing himself, a jury heard on Monday in a New Jersey courtroom.

Tyler Clementi, 18, applied to Rutgers for a new roommate after learning that Dharun Ravi spied on him on September 19, 2010 and shared the video with other students in their dormitory.

Clementi later jumped off the George Washington Bridge.

Ravi, 19, is not charged with causing his death but faces 15 counts of invasion of privacy, witness and evidence tampering and bias intimidation, a hate crime, in Middlesex County Court.

If convicted, he faces the possibility of 10 years in prison in the case that has raised questions about bullying, teen suicide and privacy in the digital age.

Prosecutors say Ravi intentionally spied on Clementi from another dorm room and intimidated him for being gay. The defense says Ravi behaved childishly but did not have a problem with his roommate's homosexuality and did not commit any crime.

The jury on Monday learned that Clementi applied for a new roommate online about 4 a.m. on the day before he killed himself.

Asked on the university website to list his reason, Clementi wrote: "Roommate used webcam to spy on me/want a single room."

However, the defense successfully argued that the jury should not hear Clementi's reason, saying it was hearsay. The jury only heard that the application had been made.

Ravi, dressed in a suit and tie, talked and smiled with his attorneys. Members of his family and Clementi's family were in court as well.

Another student, Molly Wei, who was originally charged with watching the tryst with Ravi but entered into a plea agreement, testified that she saw Clementi's sexual encounter on the brief video for a few seconds.

"It shouldn't have happened. We saw something we didn't expect to see, and it was just weird," she said.

Wei's plea deal requires her to testify against Ravi. She also must serve 300 hours community service and undergo counseling.

Another of Ravi's friends, Pooja Kolluri, 19, said she saw the video after Clementi told Ravi he wanted to use their shared room privately for a few hours.

Ravi set up the webcam "to make sure his things weren't touched," she testified.

Asked by prosecutors if Ravi also wanted to confirm his suspicion that Clementi was gay, she said yes.

Experts say it may be difficult to prove the incident was a hate crime. For such a conviction, prosecutors must prove Ravi attempted to intimidate Clementi for being gay.

Both were freshmen at the time.

(Writing by Ellen Wulfhorst; Editing by Paul Thomasch)