Witness in Rutgers webcam case "overwhelmed" at news student

Reuters News
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Posted: Feb 28, 2012 3:08 PM
Witness in Rutgers webcam case "overwhelmed" at news student

By Jonathan Allen

NEW BRUNSWICK, New Jersey (Reuters) - A former Rutgers student became "overwhelmed with emotions" when she learned another student was missing and perhaps dead just days after she had covertly watched him kissing another man over a webcam video, she testified in court on Tuesday.

Molly Wei, who was originally charged with invasion of privacy in the case of a gay Rutgers student who killed himself, testified at the Middlesex County, New Jersey trial of Dharun Ravi as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors.

Ravi faces 15 counts of invasion of privacy, witness and evidence tampering and bias intimidation, a hate crime, after setting up a webcam on September 19, 2010 that displayed the intimate encounter of his roommate Tyler Clementi with another man.

Clementi, 18, jumped off the George Washington Bridge three days later.

Ravi, who turned 20 on Tuesday, is not charged with causing his death, but the case that has raised questions about bullying, teen suicide and privacy in the digital age. If convicted, Ravi faces the possibility of 10 years in prison.

Wei was among those who saw Clementi kissing another man on Ravi's webcam for a few seconds.

When police told her a couple days later that Clementi was missing and may have committed suicide, she said: "I felt sad, overwhelmed.

"I felt overwhelmed with emotions," she said.

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.

Wei testified on Monday that Ravi had briefly mentioned that his roommate was gay but did not consider it an issue.

Under her plea agreement, Wei also must serve 300 hours community service and undergo counseling.

An acquaintance of Ravi's testified on Monday that he set up the webcam to protect his belongings after Clementi said he wanted their shared room for a few hours.

Asked by prosecutors if Ravi also wanted to confirm his suspicion that Clementi was gay, the acquaintance, who also saw the brief video stream, 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.

(Editing By Ellen Wulfhorst and Paul Thomasch)