Student implicated in Rutgers suicide pleads not guilty

NEW BRUNSWICK, New Jersey Mon May 23, 2011 12:04pm EDT

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NEW BRUNSWICK, New Jersey (Reuters) - A student accused of secretly playing the sexual tryst online of a roommate who later committed suicide pleaded not guilty on Monday to hate crime charges in the case that drew national attention to issues of gay-bashing and bullying.

Dharun Ravi, 19, did not speak at his appearance in Middlesex, New Jersey County Court, where he faces 15 charges including invasion of privacy, evidence tampering and bias intimidation.

Ravi's roommate Tyler Clementi leaped off the George Washington Bridge last fall after learning his encounter with another man had been spied upon. Clementi, 18, was a freshman at Rutgers University and a promising violinist.

Ravi is accused of secretly using a webcam to watch Clementi's tryst with another man and put it live online.

If convicted, he faces up to 10 years in prison.

Clementi's family attended Ravi's arraignment, and Tyler's father Joseph Clementi made a brief statement afterward, saying: "We are eager to see the criminal justice process move forward."

Prosecutors say Ravi, of Plainsboro, New Jersey, set up the filming of Clementi's encounter with another man and advertised the live video stream on Twitter. He was accused of staging a cover-up by deleting the Twitter post and replacing it with another one intended to mislead investigators as well as asking witnesses not to testify against him.

Clementi's death received wide attention, with such prominent figures as President Barack Obama and talk show host Ellen Degeneres speaking out against bullying and school systems, and rights groups promoting programs to help prevent harassment of gay students.

Neither Ravi nor his attorney Steven Altman would comment as they left the courthouse.

Another student implicated in the case, Molly Wei, 19, has agreed to testify against Ravi as part of a plea deal. She has applied for a pretrial intervention program that could mean the two counts of invasion of privacy against her are dropped.

In exchange for having the charges dismissed, Wei must testify against Ravi, complete 300 hours of community service, undergo counseling on cyberbullying and take classes on dealing with people of alternative lifestyles.

Ravi is due in court again on July 25.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Greg McCune)

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