NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — As he and his new boyfriend lay naked on a bed in a nondescript dormitory room at Rutgers University, the young man sensed he was being spied on.
“I just happened to glance over,” the man, now a nervous and heavily shielded star witness, told a courtroom here on Friday. “It just caught my eye that there was, you know, a camera lens looking directly at me.”
As he left the room that night, he testified, a group of students were standing nearby, joking and looking at him in a way that unsettled him. When they met again two nights later, he heard students laughing outside.
He wanted to see his new boyfriend again — they had been exchanging e-mails for weeks now, but had had only three dates, and were texting furiously in the hopes of setting up another one. But he was not sure he would return to the dorm.
“I felt a little uneasy about it,” he said.
He never saw his new boyfriend, Tyler Clementi, again. Mr. Clementi, an 18-year-old student at Rutgers, jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge the next evening, Sept. 22, 2010, after posting a message on Facebook that ended, “sorry.”
It was two weeks later, when prosecutors went to his house, that the man learned that the camera, on Mr. Clementi’s roommate’s computer, had been used to view them as they had sex.
The roommate, Dharun Ravi, is on trial in Superior Court on charges that he set up the camera and encouraged others to watch its images of the men having sex. Prosecutors have charged him with invasion of privacy, bias intimidation and hindering apprehension, after, they say, he tried to cover up his Twitter messages to friends encouraging them to watch. He is not charged in Mr. Clementi’s death.
The man was the most anticipated witness in the trial — the small windowless courtroom in the Middlesex County Courthouse had been packed with spectators and reporters for three days with the promise of his testimony.
He is identified in court documents only as “M.B.,” and before he came in the room the judge warned the journalists assembled that they could not record or photograph the man.
M.B., who appeared to be in his late 20s or early 30s, entered with his shoulders hunched, seeming to twitch as he walked, as if he was on trial rather than a witness. He had close cropped hair and a bit of a 5 o’clock shadow, He wore a blue and white striped shirt, more casual than the well-tailored suits of Mr. Ravi and his friends who have testified. He did not look, as Mr. Ravi’s friends have described him, “scruffy” or “shady.”
He testified that he and Mr. Clementi met in an online chat room for gay men in early August 2010, then exchanged instant messages and text messages for several weeks. Mr. Clementi, an accomplished violinist, told the man he was going to Rutgers early, before the regular start of the fall semester, for a music program. They agreed that it made sense to wait until Mr. Clementi was at Rutgers to meet in person.
“We were just talking, getting to know each other at that time,” he said. “I was comfortable, he was comfortable, until he was coming closer to actually meet in person.”
Their first date was a few weeks later, on Thursday, Sept. 16. They met twice more, on the next Sunday and Tuesday, before Mr. Clementi, who had only recently told his parents he was gay, went to the bridge and committed suicide.
At first the room seemed like a normal dorm room, he testified.
But then, he told a prosecutor, “I had just glanced over my shoulder and I had noticed there was a webcam that was faced toward the direction of the bed, and I just thought it was kind of strange. Just being in a compromising position and seeing a camera lens — I guess it just stuck out to me that if you were sitting at a desk using the computer, that camera wouldn’t be facing that direction, it would be facing the person at the computer.”
The man was the witness whom both the prosecution and the defense had been waiting for. To prosecutors, M.B. is a victim of harassment based on sexual orientation — a proxy of sort for Mr. Clementi.
To the defense, M.B. was evidence that Mr. Ravi was not motivated by bigotry but by suspicion — of an older man who appeared out of place among the college freshmen in the dorm. Mr. Ravi’s lawyers contend that he set up the webcam because he was afraid that the man would steal his valuable computer equipment.
The New York Times
The New York Times