Texts, tweets scrutinized in webcam spying trial

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (AP) ? Jurors got a glimpse Wednesday at the Twitter and texting activity of a Rutgers University student in the days after he allegedly used a webcam to try to spy on his roommate, who later killed himself.

They heard that some possibly damaging text messages went missing from Dharun Ravi’s cellphone, that a Twitter message disappeared and was replaced by pair of more benign tweets, and that he sent a heartfelt apology to his roommate, Tyler Clementi, at about the time Clementi was jumping to his death from the George Washington Bridge on Sept. 22, 2010.

Ravi, 20, is on trial for 15 criminal counts, including invasion of privacy, bias intimidation and crimes related to covering up his actions. He is not charged in the death of Clementi, an 18-year-old violinist.

The apology, sent at 8:46 p.m., read: “I want to explain what happened. Sunday night when you requested to have someone over I didn’t realize you wanted the room in private. I went to Mollys room and I was showing her how I set up my computer so I can access it from anywhere. I turned on my camera and saw you in the corner of the screen and I immediately closed it. I felt uncomfortable and guilty of what happened. Obviously I told people what occurred so they could give me advice. Then Tuesday when you requested the room again I wanted to make sure what happened Sunday wouldn’t happen again and not to video chat me from 930 to 12. Just in case, I turned my camera away and put my computer to sleep so even if anyone tried it wouldn’t work. I wanted to make amends for Sunday night. I’m sorry if you heard something distorted and disturbing but I assure you all my actions were good natured.”

The jury has not heard anything about a Facebook status update that Clementi posted at 8:42 p.m., saying “Jumping of the gw bridge, sorry.”

There’s been no evidence on whether Ravi saw that update before ? or after ? he texted his apology. Learning that might help authorities sort out whether the message was an apology or part of an attempt to cover up any wrongdoing.

With the story of alleged invasion of privacy and bias intimidation already told in court, prosecutors have turned to trying to show jurors that a former Rutgers University student accused of using a webcam to spy on his roommate’s intimate encounter with another man tried to cover up his actions.

Earlier Thursday, a detective told jurors that Ravi sent a pair of Twitter messages on Sept. 22, 2010, after it was believed that Clementi had killed himself.

One read: “Roommate asked for room again. It’s happening again. People with ichat, don’t you dare videochat me from 9 to 12.” The next: “Everyone ignore the last tweet. Stupid drafts.”

Jurors already have heard from a string of witnesses that Ravi sent a similar message a day earlier, but instead of saying “Don’t you dare videochat me,” it told followers, “I dare you to videochat me.”

That message is central to the prosecution’s case that Ravi attempted to spy on Clementi on Sept. 21 and intimidated him by telling other people to watch.

The later messages are part of prosecutors’ contention that he used Twitter, among other means, to cover his tracks by erasing an earlier message, replacing it with a similar but less damaging one, then claiming it was a mistake.

On the witness stand on Wednesday, the ninth day of testimony, Robert Torrisi, a detective at the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office, testified about what he found on the cellphones of Ravi and some of his friends.

His testimony came a day after another investigator told jurors about Clementi’s Twitter use, including that he visited Ravi’s page on the social media network 38 times in the two days before he killed himself ? and saved screen shots of two messages. In the first, on Sept. 19, Ravi wrote about turning on his webcam from a friend’s room. “I saw him making out with a dude. Yay,” it concluded. The second one he saved was from Sept. 21. It was the one “daring” people to initiate webchats with him that night.

In addition to the Twitter scrutiny, the investigator compared text messages on the phones. There were some exchanges that remained on friends’ phones but were deleted from Ravi’s.

Torrisi also showed records of text messages that were referenced on phone company records but didn’t turn up on Ravi’s cellphone.

He said there were 55 such messages between Ravi and Michelle Huang and 31 exchanged with Molly Wei.

Jurors previously heard from both women. Huang testified about texts ? perhaps sent in jest ? about a computer program that he said would warn him if someone else approached his beds. “Keeps the gays away,” he told her in one message.

Wei testified that Ravi texted her about what she should and shouldn’t tell police when she was questioned in the case. One of them said: “Did you tell them we did it on purpose?”

Ravi’s defense lawyer raised questions about the chain of custody for Ravi’s Blackberry, asking Torrisi who had access to it in the several days before the phone was examined.

Throughout the trial, Ravi’s defense attorney has asked students whether Ravi told them to delete data. Most have said no.


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