Defense wants conviction dismissed in Web hoax

Thursday, January 8, 2009 | 11:02 a.m. CST

LOS ANGELES — Contending it's not a federal crime to violate the service terms of a Web site, a defense attorney has asked a judge to dismiss the conviction of a Missouri mother in a cruel Internet hoax on a 13-year-old girl who committed suicide.

U.S. District Court Judge George Wu is expected to hear arguments on Thursday to set aside the verdicts against Lori Drew and to enter a judgment of acquittal.

A jury found Drew guilty in November of three misdemeanor counts of accessing computers without authorization.

Prosecutors said Drew violated the rules by helping create a fictitious 16-year-old boy on MySpace and sent flirtatious messages from him to teenage neighbor Megan Meier.

The "boy" then dumped Megan in a message telling her "the world would be a better place without you."

Megan hanged herself soon afterward in her bedroom closet in October 2006.

In his dismissal motion, attorney Dean Steward argued that prosecutors failed to show a crime was committed because his client violated MySpace service terms.

"Put simply, the question is this: Is it a federal crime to violate a Web site terms of service?" Steward wrote. "The correct answer should be a resounding no."

Jurors found Drew was not guilty of the more serious felonies of intentionally causing emotional harm and couldn't reach a unanimous verdict on a felony conspiracy charge.

Prosecutors want Wu to dismiss the conspiracy charge "in the interests of justice," according to court documents. An e-mail message left for prosecutors wasn't returned.

The case hinged on an unprecedented application of computer-fraud law. Drew was not directly charged with causing Megan's death, but she was indicted under the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which in the past has been used in hacking and trademark theft cases.

Drew faces up to three years in prison and a $300,000 fine. The trial was held in Los Angeles because the servers of social networking site are in the area.


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Cullen Breedlove January 8, 2009 | 1:15 p.m.

If it is illegal to break a website's terms of service you are going to have to lock up a lot of kids for looking at porn.

(Report Comment)
Angela Ricketts January 8, 2009 | 2:45 p.m.

It is very sad that this young girl took her life; however, I must ask where the mother of this teen was? Was she so unaware of what her daughter was viewing and doing on the Internet? I am not trying to place blame on the mother directly but we must all monitor our children on the Internet and intervene when we see a potential issue or problem.

In addition, I am of the opinion that this young girl must have experienced issues with self-esteem and depression before this incident. This is an unfortunate reminder to all parents that we must be vigilant in knowing our children by talking with them and asking them how they are doing or feeling. A lonely child that feels outcast or unwanted by their peers is at a very high risk for depression and anxiety. Depression and anxiety left untreated in teens can lead to violent acts, drug and/or alcohol abuse or, as in this case, suicide.

A boy, fictitious or not, that rejects a young girl was not the cause of this suicide--rather, it was a dynamic culmination of this girls life--it was the proverbial "straw that broke the camels back." Pay attention to your children, know what they are doing inside and outside of the home and be aware of any outward signs of depression.

In some cases, it is impossible to stop someone from committing suicide; however, if you are aware of the problem and are proactive in its treatment then the chances that this person will survive and recover are significantly increased.

(Report Comment)
Rob Weir January 8, 2009 | 4:23 p.m.

Vox magazine also covered this story in May of last year in a wider story about cyberbullying.

Rob Weir
Director of Digital Development
The Columbia Missourian

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr January 8, 2009 | 6:44 p.m.

>>> Pay attention to your children, know what they are doing inside and outside of the home and be aware of any outward signs of depression. <<<

Well said!

(Report Comment)

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