Video: Student’s suicide probed as hate crime

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    >>> let's begin this half hour with prosecutors now looking into filing more serious charges against the two rutgers university students who are accused of streaming video of another student's sexual encounter online.

    >> reporter: good morning, matt. there's a growing chorus that's saying that the incident that was involved wasn't just an act of video voyeurism or cyber bullying , but of cyber gay bashing , but one of the suspects reportedly says not so. it has now been confirmed that the body pulled from the hudson river was that of tyler clementi , who wrote on his facebook page, jumping off the gw bridge , sorry. this encounter was streamed live over the internet. two classmates have been charged with privacy law violations, but the count prosecutor says they'll be making every effort to assess whether bias played a role in the incident.

    >> privacy violations are --

    >> meanwhile the respected rutgers college newspaper reports that unnamed students say on the night of the incident, a strange older male arrived at the room robby shared with clementi and that robby had no intention of witnessing any kind of intimate encounter. he just wanted to know what was going on in his room and quickly looked at the webcam that he had left on. but one of the suspects told nbds after listening to the reading of the account, that is basically the story robby is telling. but there's been no denial that robby tweeted that clementi was making out with a dude, yay. however this happened, the death of this gifted student has left fellow students to wonder how tech savvy students could still be confused about what technology can do and what it should not do.

    >> especially with the generation that has grown one the internet, they might not bay ware of the repercussions of their actions.

    >> reporter: the lawyers for the two suspects are not comments. but someone who appears to be clementi wrote several posts on a gay website who was wrestling with what to do about a roommate who was spying on him with a webcam.

    >> dan abrams is nbc's chief legal analyst, dan, good morning to you, we already know that they have been charged with a couple of counts of invasion of privacy. but now we're hearing more about hate crime charges. are these charges coming from a solid legal place or are they coming from an emotional place?

    >> it's going to depend on the facts, there's two types of charges, there's the fourth-degree felony which is for filming the activity without the consent of the person. the more serious one, the third-degree is for distributing it. so now some are saying the prosecutors should add something on to that third-degree felony. if they can determine it was a hate crime , meaning intended to intimidate the person based on sexual orientation , they could up the possible sentence here from up to five years to up to ten years.

    >> but it's a big if and how do they go about connecting those dots.

    >> they're going to need more than just the text that we just read about him, quote, being a gay -- about making out. they're going to need to know that the reason that he did it, that his intent here was to intimidate him based on sexual orientation . that's going to be tough legally in a case like this. a lot of people are going to say wait a second, what do you mean it's going to be tough? look at the facts of what happened. the facts are one thing, but as a legal matter, you're going to have to show the intent of the person who was doing it.

    >> let me ask you how this might play into all of this. according to a report in the new york times t roommate danger robby tweeted back in august, this is well in advance of this going on that he, quote, just found out my roommate is gay, end quote. so now he has information, he then subsequently goes out setting up this webcam to record or distribute this encounter, does that play into it?

    >> it will be part of the totality of the circumstances. but basically they're going to have to show this was more than just a prank, right? because if it's a prank, the charges that are out there are the right charges. if it's more than a prank, meaning the reason he's doing it is because of the sexuality of his roommate, then you've got the possibility of the elevateded charges.

    >> it would be the state of new jersey bringing the hate crime charges.

    >> that's right.

    >> if the state decides not to go further and file those charges, could a federal prosecutor come in? because that's happened in the past and say no, we believe this is a biassed crime.

    >> theoretically, but probably not in this case. but by definition, in the federal law for a hate crime there has to have been violence involved and that would be even tougher to prove in a case like this. remember, new jersey has a pretty tough hate crime law meaning the burden is lower than for the federal crime , if new jersey doesn't go for it, very unlikely that the feds will.

    >> dan abrams , it's 7:36, let's

msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 9/30/2010 7:37:02 PM ET 2010-09-30T23:37:02

The suicide of a university student — after a video of him having a sexual encounter with a man was broadcast online — has stirred outrage and remorse on campus from classmates.

"Had he been in bed with a woman, this would not have happened," said Rutgers University student Lauren Felton, 21. "He wouldn't have been outed via an online broadcast and his privacy would have been respected and he might still have his life."

Gay rights groups say Tyler Clementi's suicide make him a national example of a problem they are working to combat: Young people who kill themselves after being tormented over their sexuality.

A lawyer for Clementi's family confirmed Wednesday that he had jumped off the George Washington Bridge last week.

A body found in the Hudson River off New York City was identified on Thursday as Clementi's. New York City medical examiner's spokeswoman Grace Burgess confirmed Clementi committed suicide, saying he drowned and had impact injuries on his torso.

Image: Tyler Clementi, Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei
The Star-Ledger
Tyler Clementi, left, is thought to have committed suicide, days after video of him was secretly webcast on the Internet. Clementi's roommate, Dharun Ravi, center, and another classmate, Molly Wei, have been charged in the case.
Clementi's roommate, Dharun Ravi, and fellow Rutgers student Molly Wei, both 18, have been charged with invading Clementi's privacy.

Middlesex County prosecutors say the pair used a webcam to surreptitiously transmit a live image of Clementi having sex on Sept. 19 and that Ravi tried to webcast a second encounter on Sept. 21, the day before Clementi's suicide.

Collecting or viewing sexual images without consent is a fourth-degree crime. Transmitting them is a third-degree crime with a maximum prison term of five years.

Ravi wrote Sept. 19 on what is believed to be his Twitter page, which has since been deleted, but is still accessible though Google's cache system: "Roommate asked for the room till midnight. I went into molly's room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay."

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Two days later, Ravi apparently posted another entry referring to iChat, an internet messaging service with a live video feed.

"Anyone with iChat, I dare you to video chat me between the hours of 9:30 and 12. Yes it's happening again," Ravi wrote in the Sept. 21 post.

Clementi's last cry for help?
The website Gawker reported that a user called cit2mo who posted messages on a website called JustUsBoys may have been Clementi.

In a thread called "college roommate spying," the post from cit2mo on Sept. 21 at 7:22 a.m. said: "so the other night i had a guy over. I had talked to my roommate that afternoon and he had said it would be fine w/him. I checked his twitter today. he tweeted that I was using the room (which is obnoxious enough), AND that he went into somebody else’s room and remotely turned on his webcam and saw me making out with a guy. given the angle of the webcam I can be confident that that was all he could have seen," cit2mo wrote.

YouTube channel offers hope to gay teens

"I’m kinda pissed at him (rightfully so I think, no?) ... I feel like the only thing the school might do is find me another roommate, probably with me moving out … and i’d probably just end up with somebody worse than him ... I mean aside from being an asshole from time to time, he’s a pretty decent roommate," he added.

He added at 9:28 a.m. that day, that "I feel like it was 'look at what a fag my roommate is' ... and the fact that the people he was with saw my making out with a guy as a scandal whereas i mean come on ... he was SPYING ON ME ... do they see nothing wrong with this? unsettling to say the least."

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ABC News and The Star-Ledger of Newark reported that on Sept. 22 Clementi left a note on his Facebook page that read: "Jumping off the gw bridge sorry." On Wednesday, his Facebook page was accessible only to friends.

Even if the young violinist was not well known at his new school, his death stirred outrage.

"The notion that video of Tyler doing what he was doing can be considered a spectacle is just heinous," said Jordan Gochman, 19, who didn't know Clementi. "It's intolerant, it's upsetting, it makes it seem that being gay is something that is wrong and can be considered laughable."

Other students who did know Clementi were upset that they didn't do more to help him. "I wish I could have been more of an ally," said Georges Richa.

Video: Student’s suicide probed as hate crime (on this page)

About 100 people gathered Wednesday night for a vigil on campus. They lay on the ground and chanted slogans such as, "We're here, we're queer, we're not going home."

Several gay rights groups linked Clementi's death to the troubling phenomenon of young people committing suicide after being harassed over their sexuality.

On Tuesday, a 13-year-old California boy died nine days after classmates found him hanging from a tree. Authorities say other teens had taunted the boy, Seth Walsh of Tehachapi, for being gay.

'Heartbroken'
Steven Goldstein, chairman of New Jersey-based Garden State Equality, said in a statement that his group considers Clementi's death a hate crime.

"We are heartbroken over the tragic loss of a young man who, by all accounts, was brilliant, talented and kind," Goldstein said. "And we are sickened that anyone in our society, such as the students allegedly responsible for making the surreptitious video, might consider destroying others' lives as a sport."

Rutgers University President Richard McCormick wrote in a letter to the campus.

"If the charges are true, these actions gravely violate the university's standards of decency and humanity," he said.

Coincidentally, the university on Wednesday was launching a new two-year Project Civility, designed to get students thinking about how they treat others.

A lawyer for Ravi did not immediately return a message seeking comment. It was unclear whether Wei had retained a lawyer.

The mourning continued at Rutgers and in Ridgewood, the suburban New Jersey town where Clementi grew up and attended high school.

Clementi's violin teacher for the past five years could not believe he had taken his own life.

"He was a very genuine and, I guess, you could call it a shy person," said Khullip Jeung, 33, who teaches out of his home in Fort Lee. "But when he played the violin, it was different. He had a strong voice. He knew what he wanted to say. And he spoke through his violin. And I think that is the real Tyler that I knew."

The governor also had a comment.

"As the father of a 17-year-old, I can't imagine what those parents are feeling today," Gov. Chris Christie said. "Those people who led him to that bridge are going to have to bear that responsibility for the rest of their lives."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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