Kevin Riordan: A wide sadness hangs over Rutgers webcam spying trial

Tyler Clementi, who committed suicide after several people saw a live feed of his encounter with a man.
Tyler Clementi, who committed suicide after several people saw a live feed of his encounter with a man.
Posted: September 13, 2011

Dhuran Ravi showed no surprise.

At least I couldn't detect any from my seat in Superior Court in New Brunswick on Friday, as Judge Glenn Berman rejected a motion to dismiss all charges against the Rutgers webcam spying defendant.

Flanked by his attorneys, Ravi, 19, looked like a kid despite his somber suit and subdued hair. The toothy grin of his now-famous high school yearbook photo was absent, and no wonder: The allegations that have derailed his life require a cautious approach.

The Ultimate Frisbee player and techie from Plainsboro is charged with snooping while his gay roommate, Tyler Clementi, used their dorm room for sex last Sept. 19.

On Twitter soon afterward, Clementi learned that Ravi and others had viewed a live feed of his encounter with a twenty-something guy he had met a week earlier on a gay hookup site.

The 18-year-old freshman from Ridgewood spoke to a resident adviser about getting a new roommate, but he also invited his acquaintance to visit again on Sept. 21. The following day - after another alleged voyeurism attempt by Ravi - Clementi jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge.

Officially, that tragedy is unrelated to the 15 charges of bias intimidation, invasion of privacy, and evidence tampering against Ravi, who has pleaded not guilty and is free on $25,000 bail. He left Rutgers last fall.

But Clementi's suicide was a presence in the courtroom, where his parents, Joseph and Jane, showed little emotion. The couple also remained stoic as their son's private acts were repeatedly alluded to, however obliquely.

Berman, defense attorney Steve Altman, and Middlesex County First Assistant Prosecutor Julia L. McClure were exquisitely careful.

During a 90-minute hearing about the high-tech exposure of a young man's physical intimacy with another male, the word homosexuality came up once - and then only in connection with how the public might view the matter.

For gay men of my generation, the walking on eggshells was reminiscent of a time when being out could land a guy on unemployment rather than on TV.

Glee, gay marriage, and a younger generation's supposedly easier acceptance of nontraditional families notwithstanding, same-sex intimacy - in other words, sex - still makes plenty of people uncomfortable.

How uncomfortable an issue it was for Ravi, and for Clementi, is central to the case.

The defense and the prosecution have sought to, respectively, obtain and withhold the name of the man who visited Clementi and who is referred to in court documents simply as "M.B." The defense has said it does not want to expose M.B., but merely to interview him about Clementi's state of mind.

The two sides also have jousted over written material found in Clementi's backpack, and over the contents of the dead man's computer.

On Friday, Berman OKd the release of the name to Ravi's lawyers, and said he wanted to review Clementi's computer files and written material privately before deciding whether to make them accessible. The prosecution has until this Friday to respond to the rulings.

The stack of public documents the case has so far generated clearly suggest that sharing a 16-by-16-foot room in Davidson Hall made both men anxious.

Friends told investigators that Ravi spoke of being "creeped out" that gay sex had taken place in the room. He joked about setting up a computer program to wake him if Clementi tried to assault him as he slept.

Clementi's mother told Rutgers officials that her son, who court documents show was familiar with freewheeling gay websites with names like Justusboys, had been depressed.

Whatever his struggles, his pain is over.

But for the people who loved and miss him, and for Ravi and his loved ones, the pain is about to deepen.

They will need all of the courtroom composure they can muster.


Contact staff writer Kevin Riordan at 856-779-3845, kriordan@phillynews.com, or @inqkriordan on Twitter. Read the metro columnists' blog, "Blinq," at http://www.philly.com/blinq.

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