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Jeered gay lover talks about ‘spy’ webcam

New York, March 3: As he and his new boyfriend lay naked on a bed in a nondescript dormitory room at Rutgers University, the 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 at New Brunswick, New Jersey, yesterday. “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, he passed a group of students looking at him in a way that unsettled him.

When he and his boyfriend, Tyler Clementi, met in the room again two nights later, he said, he heard people joking outside, in tones suggesting it was at someone else’s expense.

He said he had hoped he would see Clementi again they had been exchanging emails for weeks, though they had only three dates. But he was not sure he wanted to return to the dorm.

They never saw each other again.

Clementi, an 18-year-old student at Rutgers, jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge the next evening, September 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 Clementi’s roommate’s computer, had been used to view them as they had sex.

The roommate, India-born Dharun Ravi, is on trial in the superior court on charges of invasion of privacy, bias intimidation and hindering apprehension, after, prosecutors say, he tried to cover up his Twitter messages alerting friends to watch the men having sex.

Ravi is not charged with Clementi’s death but the suicide hangs over the case.

It prompted a worldwide debate about the bullying of gay teenagers, particularly in a digital age when taunting and harassment come not always face-to-face but on an array of technological devices and forums.

Several gay teenagers had committed suicide in the months before Clementi jumped off the bridge, and his death became a symbol of their collective pain.

Ravi’s lawyers said he might have been childish, but he was not a bigot and that convicting him would be criminalising the ordinary awkwardness of freshman roommates with little in common.

Ravi was an Ultimate Frisbee-playing computer whiz from a high-performing school in a well-to-do town near Princeton. Clementi was an accomplished violinist from a high-performing high school in a well-to-do suburb at the other end of the state. Socially awkward, he had only recently told his parents he was gay.

Ravi’s friends and teammates have testified that he told them he had set up the webcam and that he appeared to be “uncomfortable” about having a gay roommate.

But the man testifying on Friday, who said he was 30 when he met Clementi, was the most anticipated witness in the trial.

To prosecutors, he is a victim of harassment based on sexual orientation a sort of proxy for Clementi.

To the defence, he is evidence that Ravi was not motivated by bigotry but by suspicion of an older man who was furtive and out of place among the college freshmen in the dorm.

In a rare exception, the man was identified in court only as MB, and the judge warned journalists that they could not record or photograph him.

MB entered with his shoulders hunched, twitching slightly as he walked. But his voice on the stand was strong.

He and Clementi met on a social networking website for gay men in early August 2010, he said, then exchanged instant and text messages for several weeks. Their first date was a few weeks later, on Thursday, September 16. They met twice more, on the next Sunday and Tuesday, before Clementi committed suicide.

At first, Clementi’s dorm room seemed normal, MB testified.

But then, he noticed the camera. “I just thought it was kind of strange,” he testified. “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.”

In court, MB had close-cropped hair and a 5 ’clock shadow. He wore a blue and white striped shirt, more casual than the tailored suits of Ravi and his friends who have testified. But his cheeks were flushed, and he did not look, as Ravi’s friends have described him, “scruffy” or “shady”.

Pictures taken by surveillance cameras in the dormitory showed him dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, his hair and bearing much the same as they were on Friday. He testified that he had not shaved the evening before he went to the dorm.

As he left the room that Sunday, around midnight, he said, he saw a group of about five students and sensed they were staring at him. “Had they been in the street or somewhere other than this building, I would have asked them why they were looking at me,” he testified. “Because I was a guest in the building, I wasn’t going to ask.”

When he returned Tuesday night, he and Clementi heard people joking outside the room. “There was a visible reaction in Tyler in hearing those voices,” he testified.

Defence lawyers argue that MB could not have expected privacy, and that if he had been nervous about the webcam, he would not have gone back to the room. Under cross-examination, MB testified that Clementi did not introduce him to the other students they passed in the dormitory. MB said he had avoided eye contact with them.

Ravi, now 20, sat impassively, as he has through much of the trial, his chin on his fist, occasionally yawning.

His parents and a group of their friends filled the rows behind him. On the other side of the courtroom were two rows filled with Clementi’s parents, brothers and friends. Clementi’s father began to rock back and forth in his seat as MB began describing how he became intimate with Tyler.

The testimony has done little to shed light on the reasons why Tyler Clementi killed himself. In the text messages that consumed much of his new relationship with MB, he comes across as a young man newly and eagerly infatuated.

Less than 24 hours before he jumped from the bridge, he sent MB a text: “Of course I wanna chill w/u, been looking forward to it all day!”

As MB was on his way to the dorm, Clementi texted again: “Close?”

Ravi’s lawyer, Steven Altman, pressed MB as to why they had not arranged to meet for coffee or gone to the mall or a movie suggesting in his argument that MB was just after a quick sexual encounter.

But MB said that he had left the room without staying the night because he knew that Ravi would soon be back and that he might be uncomfortable finding two gay men there. “I didn’t want to cause any type of conflict between them,” he said.

“I left happy, he was happy,” he said, describing his last contact with Clementi. When he did not hear from Clementi, he said, he texted him “twice a day every day”.

Finally, he said, he picked up a newspaper and read about his death.

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