Tyler Clementi: Shadows and Fog

1.18.2011

By Ilya Marritz

The identity of Clementi's hookup is the second-biggest mystery in this case.

After Clementi's roommate, Dharun Ravi, and his hallmate Molly Wei were charged with invading Clementi's privacy, anonymous 'friends' told The Star-Ledger that, according to Wei, the man was 'kind of sketchy,' with a beard and shabby clothes. But the rumor mill quickly died after that.

Was he a townie? A high school sweetheart? An older guy? An anonymous Internet conquest? It's impossible to say. 'I would imagine prosecutors are making every effort to find out who the other person is,' says Ronald Chen, a dean at Rutgers School of Law. 'He might tell them, how was the laptop aligned? What could they see? It just helps them develop a factual case.'

So it is possible that this guy will surface and speak. If prosecutors can find him and persuade him to give testimony. And if the case even goes to trial.

Ravi's and Wei's lawyers claim the web video shows nothing beyond hugging and kissing. This would probably not be enough to convict their clients, since the law they're charged with breaking concerns the nonconsensual recording of 'sexual penetration or sexual contact.'

New Jersey actually updated its privacy statute not long before Clementi's death, with the Internet in mind. There's now a stiffer penalty for privacy invasion (up to five years in prison). But Chen says, because 'sexting' has become so common among young people, lawmakers did not expand the range of content covered by the law to include stuff that's sexual-but-not-exactly-sex. That would have created too many opportunities for lawsuits.

Davidson D, the dorm where Clementi decided to end it all, is on a forlorn patch of ground at the outer edge of Rutgers. I took the campus bus there last December, as finals season was approaching.

Inside the hall, each student's door was decorated with a piece of blue construction paper, with cotton-ball clouds and red kites. On each kite, the name of a person living there was written in glitter glue (mostly the hall is made up of doubles). I knew I'd found Clementi's, Ravi's, and Wei's rooms when I found two locked doors, each with blue sky but no kites and no names.

As I lingered outside, a young woman in sweatpants approached. 'Um, I think you're not supposed to be here,' she said.

I asked whether she would talk to me about what happened last September. 'I have nothing to say,' she said. 'They don't want us talking to you. And I didn't know him anyway.'

Chances are, she told the truth: Clementi only lived three weeks of his short life on that hall. But now that the shock of his death has subsided, it's time for those who knew Clementi well to speak up.

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