Woman in Rutgers case gets probation-like program

May 6, 2011 9:24:57 AM PDT
A former Rutgers student charged in a webcam-spying case linked to a classmate's suicide agreed Friday to cooperate with authorities as they prosecute another defendant - and could avoid jail time for her help.

Molly Wei, a 19-year-old from West Windsor, was accepted Friday into a pretrial intervention program. Under it, two invasion of privacy charges against her will be dropped if she meets a series of conditions for three years. Among the terms: She must complete 300 hours of community service, sensitivity counseling, hold a job and continue to work cooperate with prosecutors, including being willing to testify in court.

Three years is the maximum length of time in New Jersey's program, which is designed for people without previous criminal convictions who are charged with lower-level crimes. Most often, people admitted into the program can see their charges dropped after one year.

She and Dharun Ravi, a classmate in both high school and at Rutgers, were accused of using a webcam to spy on Ravi's roommate during his dorm-room encounter with another man in September. The roommate, Tyler Clementi, killed himself days later. The tragedy sparked a national conversation about bullying, particularly the bullying that can be endured by young gays and lesbians.

President Barack Obama pleaded for understanding after Clementi's death. A scholarship and federal legislation have been introduced in honor of Clementi, an 18-year-old violinist who was in his first weeks at college.

Clementi's parents, cast as advocates for protecting young gays, said they accepted Wei's agreement, which was approved Friday by a judge. Prosecutor said that the man Clementi was with, identified in court papers only as "M.B." was also consulted.

Ravi was indicted last month on 15 charges, including a bias intimidation count that charges he acted because Clementi was gay. That charge alone could be punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Ravi's lawyer has said he is not guilty.

Wei, who wore a black business suit to court, answered only simple questions from her lawyer in a court hearing that was over in about 10 minutes. Her voice was soft, but her expression was stoic. She did not speak to reporters afterward.

But her lawyers say she was a minor player in the case.

"Molly Wei should not be a poster child for this," one of her lawyers, Eric Kahn, said after her court appearance.

"Molly Wei is not a bully," said her other lawyer, Rubin Sinins.

Sinins said Wei has been cooperating with authorities since shortly after the September incident, and said she did not commit a crime.

Authorities say Ravi set up a webcam to capture Clementi's liaison and used Twitter to tell others about it. They say he and Wei viewed it on her computer.

But Sinins said that contrary to early reports, no liaison was webcast on the Internet for the public to see.

Clementi's parents were in the courtroom Friday as Wei entered the program, saying they were serving as witnesses for their son and for all the people around the world who are following the case.

Afterward, his father, Joe Clementi, read a statement about her.

"We understand that Miss Wei's actions, though unlawful, were substantially different in their nature and their extent than the actions of Tyler's former roommate," Clementi said.

"We wish that Miss Wei will become a person who will make better decisions," he said, adding he hopes she "will help people, and show kindness to those she comes in contact with."