The felony charges would have set a dangerous precedent, as they would have bypassed the test of mens rea or intent to cause physical harm in favour of the charges for violating Myspace’s corporate policies, rather than the victim’s rights. Undoubtedly we’ll see similar cases tried in the near future as the campaign to chill online rights heats up.
November 27, 2008
Misdemeanor charges stick, mistrial declared on additional conspiracy charge
LOS ANGELES—A Missouri mother on trial in a landmark cyber-bullying case was convicted yesterday of only three minor offences for her role in a mean-spirited Internet hoax that apparently drove a 13-year-old girl to suicide.
The federal jury could not reach a verdict on the main charge against 49-year-old Lori Drew — conspiracy — and rejected three other felony counts of accessing computers without authorization to inflict emotional harm.
Instead, the panel found Drew guilty of three misdemeanour offences of accessing computers without authorization. Each count is punishable by up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine. Drew could have faced 20 years in jail if convicted of the four original charges.
U.S. District Judge George Wu declared a mistrial on the conspiracy count. There was no immediate word on whether prosecutors would retry her.
Tina Meier, the mother of the dead girl, said Drew deserves the maximum of three years behind bars. “It’s not about vengeance; it’s about justice,” she said.
Prosecutors said Drew and two others created a fictitious 16-year-old boy on MySpace and sent flirtatious messages from him to teenage neighbour, Megan Meier. The “boy” then dumped Megan in 2006, saying, “The world would be a better place without you.” Megan promptly hanged herself with a belt in her bedroom closet.
Prosecutors said Drew wanted to humiliate Megan for saying mean things about Drew’s teenage daughter. They said Drew knew Megan suffered from depression and was emotionally fragile.
Drew was not directly charged with causing Megan’s death. Instead, prosecutors indicted her under the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
Among other things, Drew was charged with conspiring to violate the fine print in MySpace’s terms-of-service agreement, which prohibits the use of phony names and harassment of other MySpace members.