NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (AP) — Rutgers University students wore black on Friday to remember a classmate who committed suicide as a lawmaker proposed stiffer penalties for invasion of privacy — the charge against the roommate accused of secretly streaming video of the victim’s sexual tryst with a man.
Calling it “Black Friday,” students at New Jersey’s largest university were encouraged to leave flowers or mementoes at a makeshift memorial for 18-year-old Tyler Clementi, the violin-playing freshman who jumped off the George Washington Bridge into the Hudson River last week.
The Rutgers football team also planned a moment of silence before its game Saturday against Tulane.
Shortly before he died, a post appeared on a website catering to gay men that sought advice on what to do after learning that a roommate secretly filmed a liaison. While it’s impossible to be certain that that post and subsequent ones were made by Mr. Clementi, they mirror the same timeline as the purported filming and reflect the anguish likely in such a situation.
Mr. Clementi’s roommate, Dharun Ravi, of Plainsboro, N.J., and another student, and Molly Wei, of Princeton, N.J., both 18, are charged with invasion of privacy, with the most serious charges carrying a penalty of up to five years in prison.
If the freshly introduced bill passes and even if they’re convicted, their penalties would stick under the old law providing for up to five years in prison.
But Middlesex County Prosecutor Bruce J. Kaplan said Thursday that more charges were possible under New Jersey’s hate-crimes law.
“We will be making every effort to assess whether bias played a role in the incident, and, if so, we will bring appropriate charges,” he said in a statement.
The legal question has to do with the motive.
People can be found guilty of a bias crime in New Jersey if a jury agrees they committed a crime because of a belief that the victim is a member of a protected group, such as a racial minority or gays and lesbians.
Mr. Ravi’s lawyer has not responded to requests for comment. Messages left with an attorney believed to be representing Wei were not returned.
Sen. Shirley Turner’s bill would raise the maximum fine for privacy invasion from $15,000 to $150,000 and would increase the possible prison sentence to five to 10 years, from the current three to five years.
“Whether this was a cruel joke or outright harassment of this student, what happened on Rutgers University’s campus was a crime,” the Democrat said. “Videotaping someone without their knowledge, especially in an intimate setting, and distributing the images over the Internet is serious. We need to send a clear message that we’re not going to take this lightly.”
High school friends of the suspects, both 2010 graduates of West Windsor-Plainsboro High, say the suspects have no problem with gay people.