Kurt Opsahl, a senior staff attorney who specializes in privacy and free speech issues for the legal advocacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation, said the potential of this case to set legal precedent criminalizing online speech is worrying.
In the neighborhood where the Meiers and the Drews live, protecting the 1st Amendment has not been the main concern.
Teenagers and furious neighbors have protested in front of the Drews' one-story, white house. Virtual vigilantes have posted the Drews' home address, phone numbers, e-mail addresses and photos on websites such as RottenNeighbor.com.
Tina and Ron Meier, high school sweethearts, have struggled to deal with their daughter's death; the couple is getting divorced. Their youngest daughter, Allison, now 11, splits her time between the two.
The mounting tension and heated emotions worried community leaders enough that they are having the St. Charles County Sheriff's Department regularly patrol the suburban neighborhood. Late last year, Dardenne Prairie's Board of Aldermen passed a law that makes cyber harassment a misdemeanor -- with a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail or a $500 fine or both for each violation.
A number of area communities have passed similar measures. And Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt pulled together an Internet task force, which put the final touches on a proposal Tuesday that would make it a felony crime for adults who use online technology to harass children.
Times staff writers Molly Hennessy-Fiske and Ted Rohrlich contributed to this report.