Missouri mom escapes felony conviction in MySpace case


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The jury has reached a verdict in the MySpace cyber-bullying case: Lori Drew was found guilty on three misdemeanor charges but acquitted of felony computer hacking.

Drew, a 49-year-old Missouri mom, was accused of creating a fake MySpace page and using it to harangue Megan Meier, a 13-year-old girl who later hanged herself. The 12-person jury found that Drew had gained unauthorized access to the site but that she did not violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The jury deadlocked on a conspiracy account. L.A. Times staff writer Scott Glover, who has been covering the case, writes:

Prosecutors sought to portray Drew as a callous and reckless woman who gleefully took part in the hoax on Meier, despite knowing the girl had struggled with depression for years and had a vulnerable psyche. Among the government’s witnesses were a close friend of Drew’s, a business associate and her hairdresser, each of whom testified that Drew had admitted playing a role in the hoax.Steward accused the government of engaging in a misguided prosecution that was meant to exact revenge for the tragic death of a pretty young girl, even though Drew was not charged with her killing. He also sought to cast Meier as a deeply troubled teen who had already considered suicide and who was taking an antidepressant medication, which warned of suicidal tendencies as a potential side effect. Drew’s attorney, H. Dean Steward, said, ‘The U.S. attorney’s office never should have brought this case, and I think that was the message from the jury.’

Advertisement said the case was decided by the jury’s rejection of a novel argument by prosecutors: that violating MySpace’s terms of service to inflict emotional distress on someone was tantamount to computer hacking.

The slap-on-the-wrist verdict is a partial rebuke to federal prosecutors, who chose to charge Drew federally even after authorities in Missouri — where the hoax unfolded — found that Drew’s behavior did not violate any state laws at the time. Some legal experts and civil libertarians decried the prosecution as an abuse of computer-crime laws.

In a statement issued shortly after the verdict, Beverly Hills-based MySpace, which is owned by media giant News Corp., said: ‘MySpace does not tolerate cyberbullying and has cooperated fully with the U.S. Attorney in this matter. MySpace respects the jury’s decision and will continue to work with industry experts to raise awareness of cyberbullying and the harm it can potentially cause.’

-- Chris Gaither