Rutgers webcam trial: Star witness testifies

Molly Wei testifies during the trial of Dharun Ravi at the Middlesex County Courthouse on Monday, Feb. 27, 2012 in New Brunswick, N.J. Ravi is accused of using a webcam to spy on his roommate, Tyler Clementi, intimate encounter with another man. Days later Clementi committed suicide. Ravi, 19, faces 15 criminal charges, including invasion of privacy and bias intimidation, a hate crime punishable by up to 10 years in state prison. John O'Boyle,AP Photo/The Star-Ledger

Molly Wei, the star witness in the trial of the former Rutgers student accused of spying on his roommate Tyler Clementi, who later committed suicide, returns to the stand Tuesday.

On Monday, Wei testified how she and the defendant Dharun Ravi saw Clementi kissing another man.

"He just opened up a chat box with himself, and clicked a video button and after that popped up an image of Tyler and his guest and they were kissing," Wei testified.

Pictures: Tyler Clementi

With Clementi's family in the courtroom, prosecutors zeroed in on Wei, the only other person to first witness his encounter with another man that night.

"Were you able to recognize what you saw on the screen as being Dharun's room?" the prosecutor asked.

"Vaguely," Wei replied. "It was dark, but I just knew."

Ravi, who was asked by Clementi to be left alone for a few hours that night, used Wei's computer to activate his web camera.

Wei testified that the video was open on her computer very briefly - "like two seconds or less," she said. Describing Ravi's reaction to the video, Wei said he was "Just shocked and kind of surprised at what he saw, freaking out a little. And initially we were saying how we couldn't tell anyone what just happened."

Despite their initial decision to keep quiet, word spread. First among friends in the dorm, and later on Ravi's Twitter account. Ravi allegedly made a second attempt to spy on his roommate and one day later, Clementi committed suicide.

Complete coverage of Tyler Clementi and the Dharun Ravi trial on Crimesider

Ravi is charged with 15 counts, including invasion of privacy, hindering apprehension and bias intimidation as a hate crime. If found guilty of the last charge, he faces up to 10 years in prison.

Defense attorney Steven Altman questioned the most serious of charges with Wei on the stand. Ravi and Wei were foolish teenagers, he said, playing a college prank - not targeting Clementi for his sexual orientation.

Altman asked, "He never told you that he wanted to put Tyler in fear, did he?"

"No," Wei replied.

"You never had any discussions with Dharun about what you could do, or what he was going to do about intimidating Tyler?"

"No."

Monday, Wei testified that Ravi knew Clementi was gay, but didn't make a big deal of it. Legal expert Trent Copeland says that testimony may have actually damaged the prosecution's case.

"The prosecution is facing a real challenge now," Copeland said. "Remember their chief star witness was unable to give them exactly what they needed in that this was a crime motivated by an animus, a hostility towards gays."

  • Erin Moriarty

    Correspondent, "48 Hours"

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