NJ jury pool shrinks in Rutgers webcam spying case

By BY GEOFF MULVIHILL | February 21, 2012 | 5:15 PM EST

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (AP) — The jury pool for the trial of a former Rutgers University student accused of using a webcam to spy on his roommate's intimate encounter with another man was cut Tuesday after the judge reviewed answers from questionnaires.

Just 85 potential jurors for the trial of 19-year-old Dharun Ravi remained by Tuesday afternoon. The judge and lawyers in the case agreed to eliminate about 100 members from the pool because of the views they expressed on the questionnaires.

Twelve people and at least two alternates will ultimately sit on the jury. Judge Glenn Berman told lawyers that they should be prepared to begin opening statements on Wednesday, though it's not clear whether a jury could be seated in time for the trial to begin that soon.

Ravi is charged with 15 criminal counts. The most serious are two bias intimidation counts that accuse him of acting against roommate Tyler Clementi because he's gay. Those hate crime charges are punishable by up to 10 years in prison. He also faces charges of invasion of privacy and tampering with a witness and evidence.

Clementi's story touched off a national discussion about bullying of young gays after he committed suicide in September 2010 by jumping off the George Washington Bridge, days after the intimate encounter.

Berman said Tuesday that most of the roughly 190 prospective jurors who filled out questionnaires last week said they had heard about the case.

He dismissed those Middlesex County residents who indicated that they had made up their minds.

Also on Tuesday, Berman fixed an error that could have had an impact on the trial: A hindering apprehension charge was changed from a 3rd-degree crime to a 2nd-degree crime.

Normally, that technical change would mean that a defendant who's found guilty would likely face a prison sentence. But Berman said he could still view that charge as a 3rd-degree crime for sentencing purposes if Ravi is found guilty of it. He said he would decide that issue later if he needs to.