MySpace trial jurors hear of girl’s suicide
Dressed in a dark suit, high heels and a white blouse, Tina Meier appeared to be all business Wednesday afternoon as she took the witness stand and described how her 13-year-old daughter, Megan, began what she thought was an innocent friendship with a 16-year-old boy on the MySpace website.
Meier recalled how Megan, who had struggled with depression since fourth grade and had been teased by other children about being fat, was thrilled to be receiving attention from someone she thought was a boy named Josh, who told her she was cute.
But Meier’s stoic demeanor dissolved into tears as she recalled the rainy afternoon two years ago when Megan was suddenly dumped. Her daughter took it so hard, Meier told jurors, that she went upstairs to her bedroom and hanged herself with a belt.
Crying, Meier described trying to free her daughter from the makeshift noose but not being strong enough to lift her up. She screamed for her husband, who cut Megan down with a knife. The girl died the next day.
The story might have ended there, the tragic consequence of callous treatment by a boy named Josh Evans.
But there was no Josh Evans.
According to prosecutors, “Josh” was the creation of 49-year-old Lori Drew, a neighbor of the Meiers in suburban St. Louis whose teenage daughter was involved in a spat with Megan. Drew, her daughter and an employee of Drew’s set up the fake MySpace account to find out whether Megan had been spreading rumors about Drew’s daughter, U.S. Atty. Thomas P. O’Brien told jurors during opening arguments in front of U.S. District Judge George H. Wu.
“They hatched a plot in order to prey on the psyche of a vulnerable 13-year-old little girl,” said O’Brien, who, as the top U.S. prosecutor in Los Angeles, rarely has such hands-on involvement in a case.
Shortly before Megan took her own life, O’Brien said, she received a message from “Josh Evans” telling her “The world would be a better place without you. Have a [lousy] rest of your life.”
Megan shot back a response a few seconds later, O’Brien said: “You are the kind of boy a girl would kill herself over.”
Drew, dressed in a sweater and looking every bit the Midwestern mom, sat expressionless at the defense table during much of the proceedings.
The circumstances surrounding Megan’s death caused a national uproar when revealed last year. Authorities in Missouri initially launched an investigation but eventually concluded that there was no statute under which Drew could be charged. O’Brien, the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles, filed charges in May on the theory that because MySpace is based in Beverly Hills, his office has jurisdiction.
Drew is not charged with causing Megan’s death. Rather, she is accused of violating federal law by providing false information to MySpace to set up the account, obtaining information about Megan in violation of MySpace rules and then using the MySpace account to intentionally “inflict emotional distress” on the girl. If convicted, Drew faces up to 20 years in federal prison.
H. Dean Steward, Drew’s attorney, fought unsuccessfully to have the charges thrown out before trial, arguing that people routinely create fake identities on the Internet without fear of prosecution. Steward also asked that prosecutors be banned from mentioning Megan’s death because it would unduly prejudice the jury. Both motions were denied by Wu.
Although acknowledging that Megan’s death was “deeply tragic,” Steward suggested that the alleged harassment of the young girl was overblown by the government and that his client played a lesser role than prosecutors described. He said several computer experts had searched for the message in which Megan was allegedly told the world would be better off without her, but none had found it.
The sole purpose of creating the MySpace account was to determine whether Megan had been spreading rumors about Drew’s daughter, Sarah, Steward told jurors.
“This was a deeply sad, deeply painful case,” he said. “But Lori Drew is not guilty.”