Update: In Fallout of Suicide by Student, a Plea Deal
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|Sat, 05-07-2011 - 8:51am|
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — One of two former Rutgers University students accused of spying on another student with a webcam just days before he committed suicide will be allowed to avoid a conviction if she continues to provide information about her co-defendant, prosecutors said Friday.
The former student, Molly Wei, pleaded not guilty to invasion-of-privacy charges in Superior Court here. Ms. Wei was admitted to a pretrial-intervention program, in which she must perform 300 hours of community service over the next three years, testify at any proceedings, participate in counseling to deter cyberbullying and cooperate with the authorities. If she complies, the charges against her will be dropped.
The parents of the dead student, Tyler Clementi, who attended the proceeding, later said that they had advised the court to allow Ms. Wei, 19, to enter the program. But they said they favored harsher treatment for their son’s roommate, Dharun Ravi, who has been charged with streaming live images of Mr. Clementi’s intimate encounter with another man from a computer in Ms. Wei’s dormitory room in September.
“We understand that Ms. Wei’s actions, although unlawful, are substantially different in their nature and their extent than those against Tyler’s former roommate,” Tyler’s father, Joseph Clementi, said outside the Middlesex County Courthouse.
Standing next to his wife, Jane, Mr. Clementi said that while Ms. Wei had made a bad decision “without regards to another person’s privacy and dignity,” she deserved another chance. “We hope that Ms. Wei will become a person who makes better decisions,” he said, “a person who helps people and a person who shows kindness to those she comes into contact with.”
Tyler Clementi jumped off the George Washington Bridge on Sept. 22, three days after Mr. Ravi and Ms. Wei were said to have spied on him. Prosecutors said Mr. Ravi used Ms. Wei’s computer to activate a webcam in the room he shared with Mr. Clementi, and then alerted others to watch. Mr. Ravi is also accused of trying to spy on Mr. Clementi again two days later.
Mr. Ravi was indicted last month; the charges included a claim that he acted out of bias because Mr. Clementi was gay and that he tried to thwart an investigation. If convicted on a hate-crime charge, he could face 5 to 10 years in prison.
Mr. Ravi’s lawyer, Steven D. Altman, said he welcomed the news that Ms. Wei would be required to testify in the case. “I think that’s a very positive development, because anything that she is going to have to say is going to prove and show that whatever occurred was not done with any bias,” Mr. Altman said. “It will further confirm that he is not guilty of anything.”
Ms. Wei’s lawyer, Rubin Sinins, said his client’s admittance into the pretrial intervention program, was a good first step toward restoring her reputation. “We have said for seven months that Molly Wei has committed no crime,” he said. “She is a fine, upright person.”
Under the program, Ms. Wei must hold a job and stay out of trouble for three years, the longest term that can be imposed for a pretrial-intervention program. Both she and Mr. Ravi withdrew from Rutgers in October and are free on bail.