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Ex-Rutgers student rejects plea deal in cyber-spying case

NEW BRUNSWICK. N.J. - Dharun Ravi said no.

NEW BRUNSWICK. N.J. - Dharun Ravi said no.

The former Rutgers University student, facing bias-crime and invasion-of-privacy charges after secretly recording his roommate in a sexual encounter with another man, rejected a plea deal Friday that would have guaranteed that he not serve any time in prison.

"It was a principle of law, a principle of life. He's not guilty," Ravi's lawyer, Steven Altman, said after a 40-minute hearing before Superior Court Judge Glenn Berman.

Ravi, 19, rejected an earlier plea deal in October that would have cut his potential 10-year prison sentence to five years or less.

Dressed in a gray suit, white shirt, and tie, the former college student said little during Friday's hearing except to acknowledge that he understood Berman's explanation of the deal being offered by the county Prosecutor's Office.

Altman then told the judge that his client rejected the proposal.

The case attracted international attention after Ravi's roommate, Tyler Clementi, 18, committed suicide days after learning that Ravi had set up a webcam in their dorm room and streamed Clementi's sexual encounter with another man.

Ravi has not been charged with any offense in connection with the suicide. Clementi jumped off the George Washington Bridge on Sept. 22, 2010.

Clementi's parents sat in the courtroom for Friday's hearing but did not comment as they left the courthouse. Jane and Joseph Clementi have set up a foundation in their son's name to address the problems of bullying of homosexuals.

They have said they while they want Ravi held legally accountable for what he did, they do not believe his punishment should be "harsh."

In an interview in People magazine published this week, they said the goal of the Tyler Clementi Foundation is to offer grants in their son's name to programs that deal with gay teenagers, suicide prevention, and bullying.

Ravi, who was expelled from Rutgers after the incident, has remained free on $25,000 bail. Through his lawyers, he has said that there was no malicious intent in his action.

He e-mailed an apology to Clementi, but it could not be determined if Clementi read it. The e-mail was sent at 8:56 p.m. on Sept. 22, 2010, around the time authorities believe Clementi jumped.

More than two dozen family members and friends of Ravi's packed the courtroom Friday. Like the Clementi family, Ravi's family did not comment as they left the courtroom. The groups sat on separate sides of the courtroom and did not interact.

Berman said the plea offer would remain open until early next month, when summonses for potential jurors in the case are mailed. Once that jury selection process begins, the judge said, the plea bargain would no longer be available for Ravi to consider.

Berman also noted that Ravi, who came to this country with his parents from India and is here on a green card, could face deportation if convicted of a crime. Ravi, through his lawyer, said he was aware of that.

The terms of the plea bargain, presented in court by Middlesex County First Assistant Prosecutor Julia McClure and made public later Friday afternoon, called for Ravi to plead guilty to six of the 15 counts he faced, including one count of invasion of privacy, one count of attempted invasion of privacy, one count of bias intimidation, two counts of tampering with evidence, and one count of hindering apprehension.

The tampering and hindering charges related to deletions or changes Ravi allegedly made to e-mail and other electronic evidence. The state also agreed to drop the bias charge from second-degree to a less serious third-degree offense.

All other charges would be dismissed, and Ravi would be required to perform 600 hours of community service and undergo counseling associated with cyberbullying and alternative lifestyles.

He would serve a period of probation to be determined and would agree to dispose of information supplied to him and his defense team that identified the man with whom Clementi had the encounters.

Court papers identify the man only by his initials, "M.B." Berman ruled at an earlier hearing that the defense was entitled to know the man's identity in preparation for trial but barred everyone involved in the case from making the name public.

Authorities allege Ravi twice set up his computer webcam in attempts to tape Clementi with another man. The second attempt failed when Clementi, by that point aware of the first incident, turned off his roommate's computer.

The judge said he hoped to start the trial on Feb. 21. He estimated it would take three weeks.