By Tina Susman, Los Angeles Times
NEW YORK — The trial of a former Rutgers University student facing hate charges for allegedly spying on his gay roommmate — Tyler Clementi, who later committed suicide — resumes Monday in New Jersey with testimony expected from the Rutgers housing staffer who handled Clementi’s request for a room change.
Prosecutors are trying to prove that the defendant, Dharun Ravi, was driven by anti-gay bias and trying to bully Clementi when he put a webcam on his computer and captured live images of Clementi in their room with another man. When the high-profile trial opened last week, however, some of Ravi’s former classmates testified that he did not make homophobic comments and never indicated that he disapproved of Clementi’s lifestyle.
Clementi was 18 when he threw himself from the George Washington Bridge in September 2010, shortly after the webcam incident. Ravi is not charged in his death, but he faces several other charges, including two hate-related counts of bias intimidation. They are the most serious of the charges, and each brings a possible 10-year prison term.
Some witnesses testified last week that Ravi’s goal in turning on the webcam after Clementi asked to have the room to himself for a few hours was not to collect embarrassing video, but to keep an eye on his belongings because a strange man — Clementi’s date — was in the room.
“He was older, maybe not a Rutgers student,” one witness, Alvin Artha, who lived in the same dorm as Ravi and Clementi, told assistant prosecutor Julia McClure, the Newark Star-Ledger reported. Artha added that he left the room after Ravi and another Rutgers student, Molly Wei, invited him to watch the video he had captured of Clementi and the unidentified older man.
Another Rutgers student, Cassandra Cicco, who was Wei’s roommate, said she was in Wei’s room as Ravi and Wei watched Clementi via the webcam and that neither the defendant nor Wei seemed agitated by what they saw. “It came up for a split second, it was a quick video, we saw two males leaning against the bed making out,” she said.
“We were all just like, ‘Oh, OK, that happened,’ and that was the end of it,” she testified.
Both Cicco and Artha told defense attorney Steven Altman that Ravi had told them he had no problem with gays or with his roommate being gay.
But Scott Xu told prosecutors that Ravi had planned to set up the webcam again later in the week after learning that Clementi had another date — testimony that bolsters prosecution claims that Ravi was intent on bullying Clementi because of his sexual orientation. “He was telling people how he set up his webcam to view Tyler’s actions that night,” Xu said before the trial broke for the weekend.
Clementi turned the webcam off after learning of the first incident. He had requested a room change, a request pending when he killed himself.
Wei is expected to be the star witness. She originally was charged in the case but avoided prosecution in exchange for testifying.