By GEOFF MULVIHILL
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – A former Rutgers student accused of using a webcam to spy on his roommate’s same-sex encounter pleaded not guilty Monday to 15 charges including bias intimidation, invasion of privacy and evidence tampering.
It was the first court appearance for 19-year-old Dharun Ravi, the main suspect in the crimes allegedly committed against Tyler Clementi, a fellow Rutgers freshman who killed himself days after the alleged spying. His death sparked a nationwide conversation about bullying against young gays.
Ravi, of Plainsboro, was silent throughout the court appearance, which lasted less than 10 minutes. Clementi’s parents and brother sat in the back of the courtroom for the brief hearing.
Ravi wore a dark suit and appeared to bite his lower lip as a chorus of cameras clicked his photo.
Lawyer Steven Altman entered a not guilty plea for Ravi and waived having the indictment against him read in court.
Authorities say the case began in early August, when Ravi learned who he’d be rooming with in his first year at Rutgers.
Soon after that, he posted a message on his Twitter account: “Found out my roommate is gay,” and linked to a thread that Clementi is believed to have posted on a gay community chat room.
Then on Sept. 19, according to Twitter archives stored by Google, he tweeted again: “Roommate asked for the room till midnight. I went into molly’s room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay.”
Authorities say that was the night Ravi used the webcam to spy on his roommate – and that he tried to do it again two nights later.
Clementi, an 18-year-old violinist, killed himself Sept. 22 by jumping off the George Washington Bridge.
Prosecutors say that Ravi deleted Twitter and text messages to cover up the alleged crimes.
The most serious charges he faces are bias intimidation, which can be punished by up to 10 years in prison. To be found guilty of that crime, a jury would have to be persuaded that Clementi believed he was being targeted because he was gay.
Ravi’s lawyer, Altman, said he’s starting to make his way through the evidence prosecutors have provided him, including 88 computer disks of material, 1,600 pages of documents and a list of 125 possible witnesses.
Altman said he would hire an expert and possibly an investigator to interview witnesses.
Judge Glenn Berman scheduled a status conference on the case for July 25, with lawyers for Ravi and the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s to exchange evidence before then.
One of the witnesses is Molly Wei, who is also charged with invasion of privacy in the case. Earlier this month, she was accepted into a pretrial intervention program. Charges against her will be dropped in three years if she meets a series of conditions, including cooperating with investigators.
Her lawyer says she’s been cooperating since the beginning.
Clementi’s father read a short statement after the hearing: “Our family is grateful for the active work of the prosecutor’s office in this case,” he said. “We are eager to see the criminal justice process move forward.”