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Jurors see video of interview in webcam spy case

- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 7, 2012

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (AP) - "Yes," Dharun Ravi said in a video of a police interview played for jurors Wednesday, he violated his Rutgers University roommate's privacy by seeing him in an intimate moment with another man.

But, he said, he didn't mean any harm: "I didn't realize it was something so private," he said. "It was my room, too."

The recorded interview was the first time jurors have heard Ravi's voice in his trial, which so far has lasted nine days. Ravi faces 15 criminal charges, including invasion of privacy, bias intimidation and tampering with evidence and a witness.

Authorities say he used his webcam to spy on roommate Tyler Clementi on Sept. 19, 2010, and tried to do it again two days later when Clementi asked to have the room privately again. On Sept. 22, Clementi jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge.

The tragedy turned Clementi into a symbol of the difficulties confronting young gays.

Now, Ravi is facing up to 10 years in prison if he's convicted of the most serious charges.

Jurors have heard the story from other college students, a dorm resident assistant and police who inspected the computers and cellphones of the two roommates and other students.

On Wednesday, they got an account from Ravi himself. The interview with authorities ended abruptly after the investigators told Ravi, now 20, that his father wanted him to have a lawyer.

In the nearly hour-long video, Ravi spoke quickly but was mostly composed, looking at the detective who questioned him even as he was accused repeatedly of lying and told that he might be charged with a crime.

He said he didn't understand when Clementi first told him he was having a friend over that that he meant he wanted privacy in the room.

He said the guest _ a man who testified earlier in the trial and was identified only by the initials M.B. _ gave him a "bad vibe" and didn't acknowledge Ravi when he said hello.

He said he viewed the room using his webcam to see what was going on and turned if off after a few seconds, once he realized what the men were doing. He said he didn't explicitly see that they were kissing but he could tell that's what they were doing.

"You took that private information and you shared it with the public," said Michael Daniewicz, an investigator with the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office, "is that fair to say?"

"That's fair to say," Ravi replied.

Daniewicz grilled Ravi on a Twitter message he sent on Sept. 21: "Anyone with iChat," he said, "I dare you to video chat me between the hours of 9:30 and 12. Yes, it's happening again."

That tweet is a key part of the prosecution's case that Ravi sought to humiliate his gay roommate and wanted others to watch a webcast of his private liaison with another man.

Ravi said in the interview that he did not really want friends to try to watch the webcast that night.

"I said that sarcastically, first of all," he said. "And I turned off my computer, I put it to sleep."

The detective kept returning to the Twitter post. A copy of it was found saved on Clementi's computer, jurors were told Tuesday by another investigator. And in the two days before Clementi killed himself, a detective said, he had checked Ravi's Twitter page 38 times.

In the interview, the detective asked Ravi if he knew Clementi had seen it. Ravi said he hadn't, but explained that he deleted the tweet all the same after learning from a dorm resident assistant that Clementi believed Ravi was trying to "broadcast" it.

"I don't want him to think I was spying on him," he said. "I don't know who would want to see that."

Daniewicz also asked Ravi about a text message to a friend at another college in which he mentioned that some Rutgers students were planning a "viewing party" to watch the webstream that night.

"I was joking around saying kids here were going to have a viewing party," he said.

At one point, the detective observed: "You do a lot of joking."

"When I'm uncomfortable about something," Ravi responded, "I joke about it."

Ravi also said he turned his webcam away from Clementi's bed that night and later moved it back to its normal position, pointing toward the front of his own desk.

But the detective said it was found pointed directly at Clementi's bed.

Also Wednesday, jurors were read two long text messages sent from Ravi's phone to Clementi's at about the time of his suicide _ minutes after his final Facebook status update _ "Jumping off the gw bridge, sorry."

The first of them: "I want to explain what happened. Sunday night when you requested to have someone over I didn't realize you wanted the room in private. I went to Mollys room and I was showing her how I set up my computer so I can access it from anywhere. I turned on my camera and saw you in the corner of the screen and I immediately closed it. I felt uncomfortable and guilty of what happened. Obviously I told people what occurred so they could give me advice. Then Tuesday when you requested the room again I wanted to make sure what happened Sunday wouldn't happen again and not to video chat me from 930 to 12. Just in case, I turned my camera away and put my computer to sleep so even if anyone tried it wouldn't work. I wanted to make amends for Sunday night. I'm sorry if you heard something distorted and disturbing but I assure you all my actions were good natured."

Ravi said in the police interview that he sent that note and another after hearing from the resident assistant about Clementi's complaint.

He said he checked his phone throughout the night for a reply, but one never arrived.

Prosecutors are expected to rest their case Thursday. Defense lawyers have not said whether they'll call Ravi _ or any other witnesses.

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