Image: Dharun Ravi
Julio Cortez  /  AP
Nineteen-year-old Dharun Ravi, left, was formally notified of the 15 charges he faces in court on Monday.
updated 5/23/2011 10:19:59 AM ET 2011-05-23T14:19:59

A former university student accused of using a webcam to spy on his roommate's same-sex encounter pleaded not guilty Monday to 15 charges including bias intimidation, invasion of privacy and evidence tampering.

It was the first court appearance for 19-year-old Dharun Ravi, the main suspect in the crimes allegedly committed against Tyler Clementi, a fellow Rutgers University first-year student who killed himself days after the alleged spying. His death sparked a nationwide conversation about bullying against young gays.

Ravi was silent throughout the court appearance, which lasted less than 10 minutes. Clementi's parents and brother sat in the back of the courtroom for the brief hearing.

Ravi wore a dark suit and appeared to bite his lower lip as a chorus of cameras clicked his photo.

Lawyer Steven Altman entered a not guilty plea for Ravi and waived having the indictment against him read in court.

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Authorities say the case began in early August, when Ravi learned who he'd be rooming with in his first year at Rutgers.

Soon after that, he posted a message on his Twitter account: "Found out my roommate is gay," and linked to a thread that Clementi is believed to have posted on a gay community chat room.

Then on Sept. 19, according to Twitter archives stored by Google, he tweeted again: "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."

Authorities say that was the night Ravi used the webcam to spy on his roommate — and that he tried to do it again two nights later.

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

Clementi, an 18-year-old violinist, killed himself Sept. 22 by jumping off the George Washington Bridge.

Prosecutors say that Ravi deleted Twitter and text messages to cover up the alleged crimes.

The most serious charges he faces are bias intimidation, which can be punished by up to 10 years in prison. To be found guilty of that crime, a jury would have to be persuaded that Clementi believed he was being targeted because he was gay.

Ravi's lawyer, Altman, said he's starting to make his way through the evidence prosecutors have provided him, including 88 computer disks of material, 1,600 pages of documents and a list of 125 possible witnesses.

Altman said he would hire an expert and possibly an investigator to interview witnesses.

Judge Glenn Berman scheduled a status conference on the case for July 25, with lawyers for Ravi and the Middlesex County Prosecutor's to exchange evidence before then.

One of the witnesses is Molly Wei, who is also charged with invasion of privacy in the case. Earlier this month, she was accepted into a pretrial intervention program. Charges against her will be dropped in three years if she meets a series of conditions, including cooperating with investigators.

Her lawyer says she's been cooperating since the beginning.

Clementi's father read a short statement after the hearing: "Our family is grateful for the active work of the prosecutor's office in this case," he said. "We are eager to see the criminal justice process move forward."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: ARCHIVE: Student’s suicide probed as hate crime

  1. Closed captioning of: ARCHIVE: Student’s suicide probed as hate crime

    >>> 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


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