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Rutgers trial: Mystery date of Tyler Clementi could testify

March 01, 2012|By Tina Susman

Reporting from New York — The mystery man who was secretly recorded kissing a gay Rutgers University student -- Tyler Clementi, who later committed suicide -- is expected to testify Thursday in the trial of Clementi's roommate, who prosecutors say was driven by anti-gay bias when he spied on the men.

In four days of testimony in a New Brunswick, N.J., courtroom, defendant Dharun Ravi has been portrayed at times as a normal college student who was not bothered by Clementi's sexual orientation, and at times as a calculating young man who pointed a secret camera at Clementi's bed to watch him and his date.

The date, whom witnesses have described as being substantially older than Clementi and a bit scruffy looking, has not been identified. The Star-Ledger of New Jersey reported that the man, known in court papers as M.B., did not want his full identity revealed but felt that he needed to testify about the events of September 2010, when he had two dates with Clementi.

"He's coming into a strange environment over which he has unfortunately no control, and he's going to do the best he can to get through the thing unscathed," said his lawyer, Richard Pompelio, according to the Star-Ledger. "He knows it's got to be done."

The defense is likely to use M.B.'s appearance to bolster its argument that Ravi was concerned about things being stolen from the room when Clementi and M.B. were in it alone.

But in potentially damaging testimony Wednesday, Rutgers student Lokesh Ojha said he helped Ravi adjust the webcam for a clear view of Clementi's bed after Clementi had asked Ravi to have the room to himself for a date Sept. 21, 2010. Prosecutors say Ravi planned to share the images with others.

Clementi, having learned that Ravi had secretly recorded him on an earlier date with M.B., turned off the webcam; but he threw himself from the George Washington Bridge on Sept. 22, 2010, sparking a debate on cyberbullying and drawing condemnation of Ravi's actions from gay advocacy groups.

Ravi is not charged in Clementi's death, but he is charged with two counts of bias intimidation, a hate crime that carries as much as 10 years in prison on each count. Prosecutors must prove that Ravi was driven by negative attitudes toward gays to convict him on those counts, which are the most serious he faces. Ravi also faces invasion of privacy charges. 

As testimony began Thursday, a former Rutgers classmate of Ravi said that the defendant had told him about trying to use a webcam to "capture imagines of his roommate." "He had a suspicion that his roommate was gay," said the witness, Geoffrey Irving, who knew Ravi from the school's ultimate Frisbee team.  "He appeared uncomfortable with the situation."

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