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UPDATE: Missouri mom gets some comfort from work against cyberbullying

Friday, November 28, 2008 | 3:45 p.m. CST

ST. LOUIS — Megan Meier's mother and electronic safety advocates said Friday that Lori Drew's conviction on computer charges shows that those who use the "Internet as a weapon" will face consequences.

Drew, 49, of O'Fallon was convicted Wednesday in Los Angeles of accessing computers without authorization in a landmark cyberbullying trial, though her lawyer said he still hopes a judge will dismiss the charges against her.

Drew was convicted of misdemeanor computer charges instead of felonies in an Internet hoax played on 13-year-old Megan Meier, who committed suicide after messages from a business assistant of Drew and other online users turned mean.

Tina Meier, Megan's mother, said in a telephone interview that she'll ask at sentencing that Drew serve the maximum penalty, three years in prison and a $300,000 fine. She said she's grateful that federal prosecutors in California brought charges after officials in Missouri did not. The hoax was carried out through MySpace, a social networking Web site with computer servers in California. Megan Meier's father, Ron Meier, did not return a phone message seeking comment.

Tina Meier said Drew's conviction didn't bring her closure for her daughter's 2006 death. She said she takes some comfort in her work to protect children against bullying and will continue speaking publicly around the nation.

She hears frequently from families trying to resolve a bullying situation or grieving a suicide who are moved by MeganMeier's story. "I have an angel who looks over me every single day and has touched so many people, so many kids," Meier said.

She thinks the verdict against Drew will lead to more action to prevent, and prosecute, bullying and harassment. "We all have to be able to understand if you do something wrong, you have to face the consequences," Meier said.

Drew's lawyer, Dean Steward, said he is not yet planning an appeal, because he had asked U.S. District Court Judge George Wu to dismiss the charges during the trial, and Steward has said the matter is still under advisement. A status hearing on the case is scheduled for Dec. 29.

Steward said he didn't want to discuss Drew's life outside of the case, saying she has "no privacy as it is." He said the jury hadn't determined cyberbullying had occurred, rather that Drew had violated her terms of service with MySpace. The terms prohibit the use of phony names and harassment of other MySpace members.

Prosecutors argued that Drew, with the help of her daughter, and a business assistant, accessed a computer without authorization to taunt Megan Meier. They said Drew wanted to humiliate Meier for saying mean things about Drew's teenage daughter, but said Drew knew Meier suffered from depression and was emotionally fragile.

Meier thought she was communicating online with a 16-year-old boy named Josh, though he wasn't real. The teen hanged herself shortly after the messages turned cruel.

Tina Meier works with the WiredSafety.org group to tell Megan's story to audiences to try and better protect children from bullying and cyberbullying. Parry Aftab, a lawyer and executive director of that Internet safety organization, said she believes Drew's conviction will change the environment related to cyberbullying and cyberstalking.

"The verdict has made it very clear if you use the Internet as a weapon to hurt others, especially young, vulnerable teens, you're going to have to answer to a jury. This is not acceptable."

Aftab said she believes charges should still be brought against Drew in Missouri, and she argues a 2005 federal law making it illegal to use electronic communications with intent to annoy should apply.

Prosecutors in California charged Drew under the Computer Use and Fraud Act, which in the past has been used in hacking and trademark theft cases.


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