Defense begins for Rutgers student in bullying, spying trial

NEW BRUNSWICK, New Jersey Fri Mar 9, 2012 3:51pm EST

Dharun Ravi, a Rutgers University student charged with bias intimidation, listens to the tesimony of Raahi Grover, a resident assistant at Rutgers during his trial in the Superior Court of New Jersey in Middlesex County, New Brunswick, N.J., February 29, 2012. REUTERS/ Mark Dye

Dharun Ravi, a Rutgers University student charged with bias intimidation, listens to the tesimony of Raahi Grover, a resident assistant at Rutgers during his trial in the Superior Court of New Jersey in Middlesex County, New Brunswick, N.J., February 29, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/ Mark Dye

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NEW BRUNSWICK, New Jersey (Reuters) - The defense for a former Rutgers University student accused of spying on the gay sexual encounter of his roommate, who later committed suicide, presented witnesses on Friday who said they never heard the 20-year-old make derogatory remarks about gays.

Dharun Ravi faces 15 counts of invasion of privacy, witness and evidence tampering and bias intimidation, which is a hate crime, in Middlesex County, New Jersey Court. If convicted, he is looking at the possibility of 10 years in prison.

His lawyers launched their case on Friday, saying they only planned to put character witnesses and one investigator on the stand, so the trial could be nearing a conclusion.

It remained unclear whether Ravi would testify.

Ravi's roommate at Rutgers, Tyler Clementi, 18, killed himself on September 22, 2010, after learning Ravi set up a webcam in their shared room, covertly saw him kissing another man and appeared to encourage others to do so.

Ravi is not charged in Clementi's death, which was widely portrayed as a tragic example of bullying and the toll it too often takes on gay teenagers. Prosecutors say Ravi spied on Clementi and intimidated him for being gay; the defense says Ravi behaved childishly but did not commit any crime.

Taking the stand on Friday were six friends of Ravi's father, all of whom said they had met Ravi at family events.

Each of the witnesses, all of them of Indian origin and in the software and computer industry like Ravi's father, testified under questioning by defense attorney Steven Altman that they had never heard Ravi make any disparaging comments about gays.

Also taking the stand was an investigator from the Middlesex County prosecutor's office.

The prosecution rested its case on Thursday.

Among those who testified for the prosecution was the man seen in the webcam with Clementi. Identified only as M.B., he said he met Clementi through an online social network for gay men.

Learning that his roommate watched him via webcam, Clementi asked the university to switch to a single room. He jumped off the George Washington Bridge three days after the incident.

Prosecutors played a videotaped interview of Ravi in which he tells police he violated his roommate's privacy but meant no harm. He said he was concerned about the security of his belongings while Clementi was entertaining a visitor.

Asked by police in the interview about a Twitter posting in which he mentioned a "viewing party," Ravi said it was a joke.

(Editing By Ellen Wulfhorst and Paul Thomasch)

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