Rutgers Students Say Tyler Clementi Webcam Peeking Was 'No Big Deal'

Prosecutor argues that Dharun Ravi's webcam spying was criminal.

February 24, 2012, 12:58 PM

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. Feb. 24, 2012— -- A Rutgers student who watched a webcam broadcast of freshman Tyler Clementi and another male "making out" said that neither Dharun Ravi, who broadcast the images, or any other students were fazed by the fact that Clementi was gay or having a gay encounter.

"It came up for like a split second, of two males leaning up against the bed making out, kissing mouth to mouth," Cassandra Cicco told the court today of what she saw on Ravi's webcam broadcast. "We didn't really talk about it. It was not that big of a deal."

Cicco was one of several Rutgers students who testified in the first day of Ravi's trial. He is charged with invasion of privacy, bias intimidation, witness tampering, and hindering arrest.

Clementi, 18, killed himself by leaping off the George Washington Bridge. a few days after Ravi twice spied on his gay trysts. His shocking death became the focal point for a national campaign to stop cyber-bullying and homophobic bullying among students.

The students who testified today were called to the stand by prosecutors, apparently to illustrate how Ravi spread the word about Tyler's date with a man and invited people to watch. But during cross examination, defense lawyer Steven Altman asked the students about Ravi's attitudes towards gays and about Clementi being gay.

Cicco said that she never heard Ravi disparage his roommate for being gay or having a gay relationship before or after his Webcam spying. Cicco was in the room when Molly Wei, her roommate, and Ravi decided to watch the webcam.

The prosecution alleges that Ravi purposefully broadcast the images and shared them with other students in order to make fun of Clementi for being gay and having a gay relationship.

Like Cicco, other witnesses testified today that Ravi was not homophobic and that he and other students did not talk much about the event after it happened.

"It's scandalous because the guy (with Clementi) was older, not because it was a guy," said Alvin Artha, a friend of Ravi's from the dormitory. "He was older, not a Rutger's student. That's why Dahrun was acting the way he was."

Cicco also noted the older appearance of the man, known only as M.B. in court documents, who was with Clementi.

"He had dark hair and a goatee and was solid looking, maybe 5'9, and looked to be older than a college student,. But not obscenely old," she testified, drawing laughs from the courtroom.

The wintesses, who were mostly friends or acquaintaces of Ravi, said that on Sept. 19, 2010, Ravi and another student Molly Wei activated the webcam for "a few seconds" before turning it off.

Austin Chung, who went to high school with Ravi and Wei, said he was told of Clementi's encounter through a computer chat just moments after it had happened. Messages between Wei and Chung were relayed in courtroom, showing Wei typing, "Oh my god, Austin, Dahrun's in my room, the craziest thing just happened."

As Chung read the description of Clementi "making out with some dude," he replied "Eww," but soon after stopped discussing the incident.

Cicco, who was in the room during the broadcast, said that no one really commented on the images after they saw them, noting that it was "not that big of a deal. If he wants to have a relationship with men that's his business. We don't have anything against homosexuals."

Prosecutor Julie McClure had said in her opening statement that Ravi targeted Clementi because he was gay, an act that was planned, malicious and criminal. What he did was more than just a prank, she argued.

"He's seeking to brand Tyler as different from everybody else, as gay, to set him up for contempt and ridicule," said Middlesex County Prosecutor Julie McClure. "These acts were not a prank, not an accident, not a mistake, and certainly were not good natured... These acts were purposeful, intentional, planned. I would suggest to you beyond that they were mean spirited, malicious, and criminal."

But the defense argues that the live image of Clementi and antoher man were only on the computer for an instant, and were not purposefully broadcast to anyone. Ravi, they argue, was neither homophobic nor a bully.

"You're going to see evidence that Dahrun is not homophobic, not anti-gay. Evidence that he never recorded, never broadcast images of his roommate. He never harassed his roommate, or ridiculed or spoke negatively about his roommate. He thought he was nice guy and had no problem with him," Ravi's lawyer Steven Altman said.

Instead, Altman said, the jury should keep in mind that Ravi was a "boy" who was 18 at the time and who occasionally acted immaturely when discussing his roommate's perceived sexuality among his friends.

"He might be stupid at times, but he's 18 years old and he's certainly not criminal," Altman said.

Ravi, dressed in a dark suit, followed sidebars by intently listening in on earphones.

The trial began with the judge excusing one of the 16 jurors, reducing the panel to 15. The judge said only that the juror, identified as Mr. Alvarado, had "learned he had to amend an answer to a questionnaire... That's all I have to say."

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