June 17, 2008

Lori Drew Pleads Not Guilty in Internet Case

By Robert Patrick, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Jun. 16--Lori Drew, accused of helping create a fake MySpace profile and using it to harass a 13-year-old Dardenne Prairie girl who later killed herself, pleaded not guilty this morning in federal court in Los Angeles.

The pleas were expected and a minor milestone leading up to what the real battle will be in the case -- whether prosecutors' use of a law normally used to target computer hackers will work in a cyber bullying case.

Megan Meier, who struggled with depression, hung herself in her bedroom Oct. 16, 2006 , shortly after receiving this message: "The world would be a better place without you." Megan thought it was from "Josh Evans," a 16-year-old boy with whom she'd developed an online relationship, but officials said the boy was a creation of Drew and others designed to find out what Megan was saying about Drew's daughter, who was a former friend of Megan.

Drew's indictment on a felony conspiracy charge and three charges of illegally accessing MySpace computers was handed down last month. U.S. Attorney Thomas O'Brien said then that Drew and unnamed "co-conspirators" violated MySpace's rules and terms of service by using false information to set up the Josh account.

They then used that account to "harass" Megan, O'Brien said.

Drew's former employee, Ashley Grills, told "Good Morning America" in April that she, Drew and Drew's daughter created the account.

Grills, who says she has been granted immunity, and Drew's daughter are not named in the indictment.

The indictment also says that Drew and the co-conspirators deleted the Josh Evans account and Drew told a child who knew about the account "to keep her mouth shut."

The indictments were handed down after months of rumors that the U.S. Attorney's office in Los Angeles was taking a look at a case that had been rejected by local and federal prosecutors here.

O'Brien filed charges there because MySpace and its computer servers are located in the Los Angeles area.

Dean Steward, one of Drew's attorneys, has vowed to try to get the case thrown out by challenging both the venue and prosecutors' interpretation of the statutes used to charge Drew.

Steward has called the charges "creative." He's also said that Drew didn't type any of the messages, although she knew about Josh's MySpace page.

If convicted, Drew could face five years in prison for each charge. Steward has said that more than a year total would be unlikely, however.

This story contains some information from the Associated Press.


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