Mystery guest at center of Rutgers bullying trial

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 02, 2012 6:43 PM
Mystery guest at center of Rutgers bullying trial

By Jonathan Allen

NEW BRUNSWICK, New Jersey (Reuters) - The man who had a gay sexual encounter with a Rutgers University student that a roommate saw by webcam made his first public appearance on Friday, telling jurors that he had noticed the webcam in the dorm room while in a "compromising" position.

The man, identified only as M.B. and named a victim in the case, was one of the last people to communicate with Tyler Clementi, 18, who killed himself on September 22, 2010, after learning his roommate Dharun Ravi covertly saw them kissing and appeared to encourage others to do so.

M.B., now 32, testified that after his meeting with Clementi, "I texted him every single day" and court evidence showed that Clementi texted back to "Mike Nice."

M.B. said he had intended to see the Rutgers University student again but was not sure he felt comfortable meeting him in the dorm.

Ravi, 20, is standing trial on 15 counts of invasion of privacy, witness and evidence tampering and bias intimidation, which is a hate crime. If convicted, he faces the possibility of 10 years in prison.

He is not charged in Clementi's suicide, which was widely portrayed as a tragic example of bullying and the toll it too often takes on gay teenagers. Prosecutors say Ravi spied on Clementi and intimidated him for being gay; the defense says Ravi behaved childishly but did not commit any crime.

M.B., whose identity has been kept secret to protect his privacy, said he met Clementi via Adam4Adam.com, an online social network site for gay men, in August 2010, just before Clementi was beginning his freshman year at Rutgers.

It was on their second of three dates, all of which took place in the dormitory room, that he noticed the webcam aimed at Clementi's bed, he testified.

"While we were intimate together on the bed, I glanced over my shoulder and I noticed there was a webcam turned toward the direction of the bed," he said

"The only reason it stuck out was being in a compromising position and seeing a camera," said M.B., who said the men had sex on at least two occasions.

He later added, "There was no thought that someone was looking at me."

When he left the dorm, M.B. testified that a group of about five people watched him and "it seemed kind of unsettling."

His testimony marked the first time the jury in New Jersey's Middlesex County Court heard from a witness friendly with Clementi who spent time with him in the days before he died.

The two planned to see each other again, he said.

"We wanted to see each other every single day. We had a good relationship," M.B. testified. Later he testified, "I left happy. And he was happy."

They met only three times, the shortest date about 45 minutes, the longest less than two hours. He never knew Clementi's last name until he read about his suicide in the newspaper, he testified.

Other students who have testified were friends of Ravi's. A handful of them said they watched Clementi's encounter via webcam for a few seconds and only saw two men kissing.

While they testified that Ravi used the webcam to view his room, most of them said Ravi did not have a problem with his roommate's sexuality. One student testified that Ravi was concerned about a stranger in his room and wanted to make sure nothing was taken.

Under orders from Judge Glenn Berman, media cameras that showed other witnesses' faces focused only on the hands of M.B., who was clean-shaven, with a stocky build and neatly cut black hair. He bore little resemblance to defense attorney Steven Altman's earlier description to the jury that Clementi's visitor was "a scruffy, shady-looking, creepy, homeless-looking dude."

Clementi's parents and two brothers sat in the front row of the courtroom, listening to M.B.'s testimony.

When video was played from a Rutgers security camera showing Clementi and Ravi together in the dorm building, Clementi's father reached over and put his arm around his wife's shoulders.

Ravi's family also was in the courtroom.

(Editing By Ellen Wulfhorst and Paul Thomasch)