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Former defendant takes stand in webcam spy case

February 27, 2012 3:10:14 PM PST
A key prosecution witness in the trial of a former Rutgers University student accused of watching his roommate's intimate encounter via webcam testified Monday that she agreed to keep it a secret because it was so shocking to see the images - but that it wasn't under wraps for long.

"First of all, it was shocking. It felt wrong. We didn't expect to see that. And now that what we did, it was like we shouldn't have seen it," Molly Wei said told jurors. "We didn't want people to know what had happened."

But within minutes, she testified, she and defendant Dharun Ravi were online chatting with friends about seeing two men kissing. And within the hour, Wei said, she agreed to show a few seconds of the video stream to four other women who visited her dorm room.

Still, she said, Ravi did not intend to humiliate his roommate.

Ravi's roommate, 18-year-old Tyler Clementi, jumped to his death from New York's George Washington Bridge in September 2010, days after the spying and the gossip about it online and in their dorm.

Ravi, who turns 20 on Tuesday, faces 15 criminal counts, including invasion of privacy and bias intimidation. To convict him of bias intimidation, the most serious charge he faces, prosecutors would have to persuade jurors that Ravi acted out of bias toward gays.

Wei, 19, was charged initially but entered a program that will allow her to keep her record clean if she meets a list of conditions, including doing community service, working or attending school full-time. She also agreed to cooperate with authorities and testify truthfully in Ravi's trial.

She said she has completed about 250 of the 300 hours of community service required.

There is one requirement that was changed for her. She was to go through a program on cyberbullying or dealing with people with "alternative lifestyles." Since no program like that was offered in Middlesex County, she instead saw a psychologist.

Unlike other more casually dressed college students who have testified so far in the trial, Wei wore a black business suit. And unlike the others, she kept her voice audible even during the most uncomfortable moments.

She said that she invited Ravi, whom she had known since middle school, to her dorm room for a snack a few minutes after 9 p.m. on Sept. 19, 2010. When Ravi tried to go back, she said, Clementi told him that he wanted the cramped dorm room to himself for a few hours. So Ravi returned.

Within a few minutes, she said, he used her computer to view live images from his webcam. It was then, she said, that she saw about two seconds of Clementi and an older man kissing.

Even though she said they initially agreed not to talk about what they had seen, she asked Ravi to tell a friend about it during an online chat that began at 9:20 p.m. And within minutes, word got around the dorm.

She said she agreed to turn the webcam back on at the request of a woman who was among a group dropped by her room.

"It was the exact same image, except that they had taken their tops off," she said. "As soon as they saw it, I turned it off."

Ravi's defense lawyer, Steven Altman, asked a series of questions about Ravi's intentions.

- "Dharun never told you he wants you to go around telling everybody about what you saw on those two seconds Sunday night?"

- "Dharun never told you he wanted to make Tyler uncomfortable?"

- "Dharun never told you he wanted to intimidate Tyler?"

To each, she answered, "No."

Wei was expected to be back on the witness stand for more cross-examination on Tuesday.

Also Monday, jurors heard from university official William O'Brien that Clementi requested a room change about 30 hours after the alleged spying - and a day before he killed himself.

O'Brien, associate director of residence life at Rutgers, told jurors that his staff did not see Clementi's request for a new roommate until after he was reported missing from campus.

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