Mystery Man Could Be Called In Webcam Spying Trial

By Salon Staff

Published March 1, 2012 5:00PM (EST)

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (AP) — The man prosecutors say was secretly watched via webcam while kissing a Rutgers University freshman in a dorm room could testify as early as Thursday in the privacy-invasion trial of the student's roommate.

The man, who has been identified only by as M.B., has been mentioned often in the first three days of testimony in the trial of Dharun Ravi, 20. Ravi's roommate, Tyler Clementi, committed suicide in September 2010, days after prosecutors say Ravi briefly watched streaming footage of the encounter with M.B.

Ravi was a member of the school's Ultimate Frisbee club, and the former team captain testified Thursday that the defendant told him about a webcam ploy. He said Ravi seemed uncomfortable with the idea of his roommate being gay.

"He told me that he had set up a webcam of some sort to capture images of his roommate," Geoffrey Irving said. "He said he had done it before."

Little is known about M.B. from court filings, but witnesses have described him as a "sketchy" man around 30 years old.

One student witness got a laugh from the jury when she described him as "not obscenely old;" another said his age — not that he was a man — made his liaison with their dorm-mate "scandalous."

His identity has been kept secret, and it remained unclear Thursday morning how tightly M.B.'s identity would be shielded during his testimony.

Parry Aftab, a lawyer and online privacy expert, said that prosecutors are trying to keep his name and image from being made public because he's the alleged victim of invasion of privacy, which is considered a sex crime.

She said it's a point of law that's untested in New Jersey. "It may or may not be a sex crime," she said. "The real question is: is that sexual conduct, sexual activity, which triggers the law?"

No one has testified that they saw genitalia or sexual acts — only kissing by men who had their pants on.

When the man takes the stand, it could mark the highest-profile testimony in the case, which has drawn national attention as an example of the societal challenges facing young gays and lesbians.

Ravi is not charged in the death of Clementi, who jumped off the George Washington Bridge into the Hudson River days after the encounter. Charges against Ravi include a hate crime, invasion of privacy and several counts that accuse him of trying to cover his tracks.

In earlier testimony, former Rutgers student Molly Wei said Ravi showed her a live web stream of Clementi, 18, kissing a man in the dorm room the young men shared.

Wei said she invited Ravi, whom she had known since middle school, to her dorm room for a snack a few minutes after 9 p.m. on Sept. 19, 2010. When Ravi tried to go back, she said, Clementi told him that he wanted the cramped dorm room to himself for a few hours. So Ravi returned.

Within a few minutes, she said, he used her computer to view live images from his webcam. It was then, she said, that she saw about two seconds of Clementi and an older man kissing.

She said she agreed to turn the webcam back on at the request of a woman who was among a group dropped by her room.

"It was the exact same image, except that they had taken their tops off," she said. "As soon as they saw it, I turned it off."

She said she called Rutgers police a few days later after learning about a Twitter message Ravi posted on Sept. 21, when Clementi requested privacy in the room again.

"Anyone with iChat," he posted, "I dare you to videochat me between the hours of 9:30 and 12. Yes, it's happening again."

Wei was initially charged too, but she entered a pretrial intervention program last year that can keep her record clean. One condition of the program is truthful testimony in Ravi's criminal case.

Salon Staff

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