NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — Potential jurors in the trial of a former Rutgers student accused of using a webcam to spy on a roommate's intimate encounter will learn the name of the other man in the video, a detail that has been kept secret since the roommate's September 2010 suicide.
State Superior Court Judge Glenn Berman also told attorneys at a pretrial conference Friday that he will inform prospective jurors of Tyler Clementi's death to explain why Clementi won't be testifying at the trial. Berman scheduled jury selection for Feb. 17, and the trial is expected to begin in early March.
Dharun Ravi is charged with the hate crime of bias intimidation, using a webcam to invade the privacy of the two men and trying to cover up it up afterward. Days after the intimate encounter, the 18-year-old Clementi committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge. His story set off a national conversation about bullying of young gays.
Ravi, dressed in a dark suit with a dark blue shirt and red tie, sat between his two attorneys and didn't speak during Friday's 90-minute hearing.
The man in the intimate encounter with Clementi has only been publicly identified by his initials, M.B. Berman ruled in September that his name could be given to Ravi's defense team.
On Friday, Berman said M.B.'s name would be included on a list of potential witnesses attached to a questionnaire that potential jurors will fill out. Attorneys customarily provide the lists to ensure no juror knows a witness who could be testifying.
Court documents suggest that Ravi and some other Rutgers students glimpsed M.B. briefly in an encounter with Clementi on Sept. 19, 2010. Ravi is also accused of setting up his webcam to try to capture them in a second liaison two days later.
To prove the bias intimidation charges, which are the most serious Ravi faces and carry a 10-year maximum prison sentence, prosecutors will have to show that he was motivated by bias against gays when he is said to have recorded the encounter. Ravi already has rejected a plea deal under which he would have served probation, be required to do 600 hours of community service and receive counseling.
"Dharun had no problem with his sexual preference, and it had nothing to do with what occurred or didn't occur," Ravi's attorney, Steven Altman, said after Friday's hearing.
Berman said he would tell prospective jurors about Clementi's death but stress that Ravi is not charged with causing his death. This would avoid the possibility of any jurors finding out during the trial from other sources and having it affect their deliberations, he said.
"My guess is most people know about it, and my fear is if they don't, they will find out," he said.
Berman said he would rule before the trial on how much of Ravi's statement to police would be admitted into evidence. Altman argued Friday that the redactions made by prosecutors removed valuable context and said he wouldn't object if the whole statement was allowed.
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