Student in webcam case said unfazed by roommate's sexuality

Reuters News
Posted: Feb 27, 2012 8:04 PM
Student in webcam case said unfazed by roommate's sexuality

By Jonathan Allen

NEW BRUNSWICK, New Jersey (Reuters) - A former Rutgers University student on trial for allegedly spying on the homosexual tryst of his roommate who later committed suicide did not have a problem with the roommate's sexuality, a key witness in the case testified on Monday.

Molly Wei said Dharun Ravi, who faces the possibility of 10 years in prison, had mentioned that roommate Tyler Clementi was gay, but that Ravi "didn't make a big deal out of it."

Ravi, who set up a webcam on September 19, 2010, that displayed the encounter of Clementi with another man, faces 15 counts of invasion of privacy, witness and evidence tampering and bias intimidation, a hate crime, in Middlesex County, New Jersey, court.

Clementi, 18, jumped off the George Washington Bridge between New York and New Jersey three days later.

Ravi, 19, is not charged with causing his death, but the case has raised questions about bullying, teen suicide and privacy in the digital age.

Prosecutors say Ravi intentionally spied on Clementi from another dorm room at the New Jersey school and intimidated him for being gay. The defense says Ravi behaved childishly but did not commit any crime.

Wei, who was originally charged with watching the tryst with Ravi but entered into a plea agreement, testified on Monday that Ravi briefly mentioned his roommate was gay but did not consider it an issue.

Wei was among those who saw Clementi kissing another man on the webcam 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. "I did not expect to see two people in an intimate experience."

Wei said she watched the webcam video stream with Ravi and showed it to a handful of other students when Ravi left the room.

The jury also learned that Clementi had applied to change rooms a day before he committed suicide.

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

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

An acquaintance of Ravi, Pooja Kolluri, 19, who also saw the video stream, testified that Ravi set up the webcam "to make sure his things weren't touched" after Clementi said he wanted their room for a few hours.

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 first-year students at the time.

(Writing by Ellen Wulfhorst; Editing by Paul Thomasch and Peter Cooney)