Opening statements could begin Wednesday in the trial of a former Rutgers University student accused of spying on his gay roommate, Tyler Clementi, who then committed suicide after learning he had been secretly filmed during an encounter with another man in his dorm room.
Jury selection in 19-year-old Dharun Ravi's trial began Tuesday in New Brunswick, N.J., where Ravi faces charges of bias intimidation, in addition to invasion of privacy. Because the two bias intimidation charges are considered hate crimes, each carries a potential prison term of 10 years.
Clementi's suicide in September 2010 unveiled what prosecutors say was a plot by Ravi to use a webcam in the dorm room to capture images of Clementi in an intimate encounter with a man and to share them with other students. Initially, fellow Rutgers student Molly Wei, a friend of Ravi's, also was charged in the case, but she agreed to testify in Ravi's trial to avoid prosecution.
Both Ravi and Wei have denied wrongdoing, and Ravi in December rejected a plea deal in favor of standing trial.
"He’s innocent. He’s not guilty. That’s why he rejected the plea," Ravi's lawyer, Steven Altman, told the Star-Ledger after the December hearing. Wei has said that Ravi turned on the webcam because he was concerned that a man he did not know -- Clementi's date -- would be in his room and he wanted to keep an eye on his belongings.
The case became public in dramatic fashion when Clementi, an 18-year-old from New Jersey who was a gifted violinist with plans to perform with the Rutgers Symphony Orchestra, jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge linking Manhattan to New Jersey. His death sparked a national debate on cyber-bullying of teenagers and children.