LOS ANGELES — The MySpace hoax case was placed in the hands of a jury Monday to decide whether a Missouri mother conspired with her daughter and an assistant to harass a 13-year-old girl on the Internet — actions which allegedly led the teen to suicide.
“Lori Drew decided to humiliate a child,” U.S. Attorney Thomas O’Brien said in his summation. “The only way she could harm this pretty little girl was with a computer. She chose to use a computer to hurt a little girl and for four weeks she enjoyed it.”
Drew, 49, listened to the argument impassively. Her lawyer, Dean Steward, said in his argument that jurors must remember she is not charged with homicide in the death of Megan Meier, who killed herself in October 2006 after receiving a message that the world would be better off without her.
“If you hadn’t heard the indictment read to you, you’d think this was a homicide case,” he said. “And it’s not a homicide case. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a computer case and that’s what you need to decide.”
Both families lived at the time in the St. Louis suburb of Dardenne Prairie. Drew has since moved to nearby O’Fallon.
Steward insisted the only question is whether Drew violated the terms-of-service agreement of the MySpace social networking site. He said that Drew, her young daughter Sarah and assistant Ashley Grills never read the seven-page agreement.
“Nobody reads these things,” he said, “nobody. ... How can you violate something when you haven’t even read it? End of case. The case is over.”
Drew has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy and accessing computers without authorization. She could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison if convicted of all counts.
The jury was scheduled to begin deliberations Tuesday.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Krause, in the first portion of the government’s closing argument, said it was clear that Drew was responsible for devising the plan to invent an imaginary boy called Josh Evans who would communicate online with Megan, the daughter of a neighbor and once Sarah’s best friend.
The prosecution showed the jury the photo that was used on the fake MySpace profile — a bare-chested boy with tousled brown hair.
Krause said Drew told her daughter and the then-18-year-old Grills what to write, to make the messages “flirty.”
In so doing, he said, she violated the MySpace rules.
“The rules are fairly simple,” he said. “You don’t lie. You don’t pretend to be someone else. You don’t use the site to harass others. They harassed Megan Meier.”
Krause also said Drew was warned by others that what she was doing was wrong, and Grills herself told Drew it might be illegal.
“She knew she was violating the rules and yet she told these two kids to keep doing it,” he said.
Both prosecutors referenced testimony that Megan had been under treatment for depression, and Sarah, in testimony before final arguments, said she was aware Megan had been taking medication and seeing a psychiatrist.
“The defendant knew that she was dealing with a troubled little girl who was extremely fragile and yet she did it anyway,” Krause said.
“It went beyond a simple prank,” said Krause, “to get her so hooked on this young man that she would be crushed when she found out he didn’t exist.”
Steward, in his response, said Drew had little to do with the content of the messages and was actually out of her home on the day of the final message, which was sent just before the suicide. He also said the message, which was quoted throughout the trial, has never been found but was actually sent via America On Line, not on the MySpace site.
“My client, Lori Drew, was not home when all the electronic nastiness was going on,” he said.
Steward also attacked Grills, the prosecution’s star witness, as untrustworthy because she testified under a grant of immunity.
“Grills, bless her heart, is pathetic,” he said. “Grills is a sad character who carries a lot of guilt.”
He also blamed Megan’s mother, Tina Meier, for allowing her daughter to continue the MySpace conversation with the invented Josh Evans after she learned it was going on. He faulted her for allowing Megan to register on MySpace and for not watching closely enough.
Steward said Tina Meier has joined a group of people who believe someone must pay for Megan’s death to assuage their own guilt. He said Tina Meier had argued with her daughter moments before the girl went upstairs and hanged herself in a closet in October 2006.
“It’s tough to carry that around, ladies and gentlemen. The best way to lighten it is to say somebody else must pay,” Steward said.
O’Brien reminded jurors how the tragedy began. He said Megan sent a message about Drew’s daughter suggesting Sarah was ugly and a lesbian, and that was what led Drew to concoct the plan.
“It was so preventable,” he said. “If she was concerned that Megan called her daughter ugly or a lesbian, she could have walked four doors down and told Megan’s mother to knock it off.”
O’Brien said that even Drew’s daughter acknowledged in her testimony that the plan to humiliate Megan was “mean.”
“A 13-year-old girl knew it was mean and a 47-year-old woman clearly knew it was mean,” O’Brien said.