By GEOFF MULVIHILL
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – A former Rutgers University student accused of using a webcam to spy on his roommate’s intimate encounter with another man turned down a plea deal that could have limited his time behind bars to five years or kept him out of prison altogether.
Dharun Ravi, 19, on Thursday affirmed his decision to go to trial, at which a conviction could mean 10 years or more in prison. A judge set a trial date of Feb. 21 for the case, which helped set off a national conversation about bullying of young gays and lesbians.
Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old violinist in his first weeks at Rutgers, killed himself in September 2010, just days after the alleged spying.
Ravi faces 15 criminal counts in all, including invasion of privacy and bias intimidation, a hate crime. In the pretrial hearing Thursday to settle several issues about evidence, he remained silent, other than to say “yes” when state Superior Court Judge Glenn Berman asked him whether he understood the risks he faces by appearing in court.
The plea deal would have required Ravi to plead guilty to a handful of the 15 counts, including a bias intimidation count, which normally carries a prison sentence of five to 10 years. In exchange for Ravi’s cooperation, prosecutors were willing to recommend a sentence of three to five years, but the judge would have been able to sentence him to no prison time.
The judge ruled that Ravi’s lawyer should not have access to Clementi’s personal writings, including documents found on his computer. He also ruled against a defense motion that he recuse himself because a distant relative who is a television producer told a New York Times reporter last month that she was interested in the case.
One key issue may not be resolved.
The judge reiterated his ruling of six months ago that Ravi, his lawyer and his lawyer’s investigator should be given the name and birthdate of the man who had the encounter with Clementi- but with the caveat that they not give that information to anyone else.
Prosecutors objected to the disclosure requirement last month and asked the judge to reconsider.
On Thursday, the man, identified in court papers only as M.B., was represented in court by Richard Pompelio, a victims’ rights lawyer who argued that his right to privacy outweighs Ravi’s need to have information to defend himself.
Ravi’s lawyer, Steven Altman, contended that the name of the man- who is considered a victim and a witness in the case- is necessary for his client, even though the man has said he does not want to speak with defense lawyers.
“If you were standing where I am, wouldn’t you want to learn what was in the mind of T.C.?” he asked the judge. “And what did M.B. know, what was he told, what wasn’t he told? Who is he? Where is he from? Wouldn’t you want to proceed to try to get that information?”
Pompelio argued that media exposure would harm M.B.
“Once they find out who he is, they find out his face,” he said. “As the defendant knows, he has family and a web of relationships that are impacted by anything that happens to him. If his name gets out, it’s out and it’s out forever.”
After court, Pompelio said he would not disclose any information about his client, including his age or occupation.
The judge said he was sensitive to M.B.’s right to privacy but believes Ravi should know who his accuser is.
“He’ll never be stigmatized by any person who’s thoughtful, balanced and fair,” the judge said.
Middlesex County prosecutor Julia McClure and Pompelio said they intend to appeal that ruling.