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Rutgers suicide: Trial begins; roommate called 'mean-spirited'

February 24, 2012|By Tina Susman | Reporting from New York
  • Tyler Clementi, shown here in an undated file photograph provided by Joseph and Jane Clementi, killed himself in September 2010.
Tyler Clementi, shown here in an undated file photograph provided by Joseph… (Clementi family / Associated…)

The trial of a former Rutgers University student accused of cyberbullying his gay roommate -- Tyler Clementi, who later committed suicide  -- began on a dramatic note Friday as the prosecutor called the defendant's actions "mean-spirited" and aimed at humiliating Clementi by exposing his secrets to others.

"He and his friend ... viewed live images of Tyler Clementi and his male guest engaging in sexual activity ... kissing with their shirts off," Julia McClure told a packed New Brunswick, N.J., courtroom as Dharun Ravi went on trial. "These acts were purposeful, they were mean-spirited ... malicious, and they were criminal."

But Ravi's defense lawyer, Steven Altman, told jurors in opening statements that contrary to some early reports, Ravi never shared images of Clementi and a male date, which were captured on a webcam set up in the dorm room that Ravi and Clementi shared.

"Nobody ever broadcast anything. Nobody transmitted anything. Nobody recorded anything. Nobody reproduced any image of anything," Altman said. "Nothing."

Ravi is charged with invasion of privacy, hindering apprehension and tampering with a witness and evidence. He is also charged with two counts of bias intimidation, a hate crime that carries added penalties of up to 10 years in prison. The prosecution's star witness is expected to be Molly Wei, a former Rutgers student who was a close friend of Ravi and who also faced charges in the case. She avoided prosecution by agreeing to testify.

Clementi was an 18-year-old Rutgers freshman, and a gifted violinist, when he threw himself from the George Washington Bridge in September 2010. His death prompted a national conversation on cyberbulling, and it initially appeared that Clementi had been "outed" by video taken without his knowledge by Ravi.

The defense is expected to present witnesses and evidence to show that Clementi had come out as gay before starting college and that Ravi had sent messages to him and to others indicating he was not bothered by being paired with a gay roommate. Ravi was offered a plea deal last year but opted to stand trial because, his lawyer said, he is innocent.


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