(NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J.) — The barely mentioned death of Tyler Clementi made its way into the trial of Rutgers University student Dharun Ravi on Monday, in the form of an exchange of text messages between the defendant and a friend the day after Clementi leapt to his death from the George Washington Bridge.
Ravi, accused of spying on Clementi with a webcam in September 2010, has been charged with multiple counts of invasion of privacy, tampering with evidence and bias intimidation — a hate crime.
Before the trial, the judge informed the jury of Clementi’s suicide, but reminded them Ravi is not charged with causing his roommate’s death. And for that reason, the judge told lawyers testimony and evidence about the suicide would be severely limited.
Prosecutors are precluded from linking the spying allegations to the suicide. Defense lawyers cannot make the case that Clementi killed himself for reasons that have nothing to do with the webcam incident. But while cross-examining Michelle Huang, Ravi’s friend since high school, defense attorney Steven Altman went right there.
He asked Huang to describe the text messages she exchanged with Ravi when he learned Clementi had committed suicide on Sept. 22, 2010 — presumably to show Ravi didn’t believe he had anything to do with his roommate’s death.
The exchange between the two friends, on Sept. 23, went like this:
Ravi: “My roommate committed suicide.”
Huang: “You’re kidding?”
Ravi: “… The cops came to my room last night looking for him and a bunch of counselors told me this morning. He jumped off a bridge.”
Huang: “Wait are you serious??? WTF?? That’s mad scrary .. Wasn’t he like fine though? That’s really crazy.”
Huang then asked why Clementi killed himself, and Ravi replied: “Idk. I guess he was quiet because he was depressed. … No idea. He was quiet all the time and had no friends and so guess it makes sense.”
After Huang’s testimony, Middlesex County First Assistant Prosecutor Julia McClure told the judge that now that Altman was delving into the suicide, she might recall some earlier witnesses to ask them about conversations with Ravi about the suicide. Judge Glenn Berman said he had allowed the questioning of Huang to continue because jurors might not have understood the texts without that context.
But he was apprehensive about allowing more exploration of the suicide because Ravi isn’t charged with it.
“My preference is we don’t talk about it,” Berman said.
Before Monday, Clementi’s suicide had come up only in passing. But there is one constant reminder in the courtroom of his death: Clementi’s parents and other relatives — including, at times, both of his older brothers — sat through each of the first six days of the trial.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Alison Daye, CNN
Ralph Ellis, CNN
Frank Pallotta, CNN
Matt Egan, CNN