Police Probe Rutgers Student Suicide Link to Sex Tape Scandal

Two 18-year-olds charged with invasion of privacy as cops probe suicide link

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    Police are probing whether a death leap taken by a Rutgers student is related to a sex-taping scandal in which two Rutgers students secretly filmed another 18-year-old student's sexual encounter and streamed it live on the Internet.

    Law enforcement officials tell NBCNewYork that  Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi committed suicide last Wednesday by leaping off the George Washington Bridge and that act of desperation may be linked to the scandal. Authorities are working to determine whether the suicide was also the victim of the sex-taping crime, sources said.

    Dharun Ravi, of Plainsboro, and Molly Wei, of Princeton, both 18, face two counts of invasion of privacy for secretly placing a camera in the victim's dorm room and streaming it live.  

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    Authorities say Ravi, who was Clementi's roommate, faces another two counts of invasion of privacy for allegedly trying to use the hidden camera to tape the same victim in a previous encounter two days before the second one hit the web.

    Wei surrendered to campus cops in New Brunswick on Monday and was released on her own recognizance. Ravi turned himself in Tuesday and was released on $25,000 bail.

    College police initially launched an investigation after finding out a hidden camera had been placed in the victim's Piscataway dorm room without permission.

    "The question is I think always the question of trust, whether or not you trust people in your life," said Rutgers Assistant Professor Mor Naaman, a former Yahoo research scientist. "The basic element you have is human nature that can exploit any technology to do any number of bad things to other individuals."

    It wasn't immediately clear where or how the live feed was broadcast, and investigators took strict precautions to protect the identity of the victims.

    A lawyer for Ravi declined requests for comment. It wasn't immediately clear if Wei, a first year pharmacy student at Rutgers' Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy, had an attorney.

    According to the Associated Press, a Twitter account belonging to Ravi was recently deleted, but in a cached version retained through Google he sent a message on Sept. 19: "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."

    Two days later, he wrote on Twitter: "Anyone with iChat, I dare you to video chat me between the hours of 9:30 and 12. Yes it's happening again."

    Clementi's driver's license and Rutgers ID were found in a wallet left on the bridge on Sept. 22 after two witnesses saw someone jump from it, a law enforcement official told The Associated Press. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because Clementi's body hadn't been positively identified.

    Paul Mainardi, a lawyer for the Clementi family, issued a statement confirming the teen's suicide.

    "Tyler was a fine young man, and a distinguished musician," said Mainardi. "The family is heartbroken beyond words. all. The family and their representatives are cooperating fully with the ongoing criminal investigations of two Rutgers University students."

    The statement also said that Clementi's body had not yet been recovered.

    Steven Goldstein, chairman of the gay rights group Garden State Equality, said in a statement Wednesday 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."

    Ed Schmiedecke, the recently retired music director at Ridgewood High School, where Clementi graduated earlier this year, said Clementi was a violinist whose life revolved around music. "He was a terrific musician, and a very promising, hardworking young man."

    Rutgers spokeswoman Sandra Lanman said the college is taking the situation seriously.

    "The university takes these matters seriously and has policies to deal with student behavior," Lanman said in a statement.

    According to New Jersey law, illegally collecting or viewing images showing sexual contact involving another individual without that individual's consent is a fourth-degree crime. It's a third-degree crime to transmit or distribute such images. The penalty for the latter offense carries a possible prison term of up to five years.