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Former student in Rutgers suicide case rejects no-prison deal

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A former Rutgers University student accused of bullying his gay roommate, who later killed himself, turned down a plea deal on Friday that would have allowed him to avoid a jail sentence.

Dharun Ravi, 19, was charged with bullying Tyler Clementi for being gay and invading his privacy by loading images of Clementi's romantic encounter with another man on a friend's computer.

Clementi killed himself a few days later by jumping off the George Washington Bridge, and his death drew widespread media attention.

Under a new plea agreement proposed by prosecutors, Ravi would have had to plead guilty to the most serious of the 15 charges against him in exchange for the prosecution asking that he face a probationary sentence rather than jail time.

The sentence would have included 600 hours of community service and getting counseling on so-called "cyber-bulling" and understanding alternative lifestyles, said Jim O'Neill, a spokesman for the Middlesex County prosecutor.

The state would also have offered assistance with immigration issues, such as the possible threat of deportation, that may have followed Ravi offering a guilty plea, O'Neill said, adding that Ravi was an Indian citizen with U.S. permanent residency.

Prosecutors say Ravi, along with some friends, maliciously spied on Clementi using a webcam attached to his computer in the room they shared, and bullied Clementi for being gay.

Ravi's defense has said his client had no problem with Clementi's homosexuality, and the webcam images were never put online or stored.

The defense has also suggested there was evidence that Ravi's actions played an insignificant role in the despair that caused Clementi to kill himself in September 2010.

Ravi turned the deal down in New Jersey's Middlesex County Superior Court, O'Neill said, and will go to trial in February. If convicted of the most serious charges, which include bias intimidation and privacy invasion, Ravi could face up to 10 years in prison. He is not charged with causing Clementi's death.

Ravi had already turned down a less lenient plea deal in October that would have seen him facing a prison sentence of three to five years.

Steven Altman, an attorney for Ravi, did not respond to a request for comment.

Judge Glenn Berman told Ravi on Friday that he could still change his mind and accept the plea deal up until the jury selection process began in early January, O'Neill said.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston)

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