July 4, 2009

Judge Overturns MySpace Suicide Conviction

In the now infamous MySpace suicide trial, a federal judge has said that he will likely dismiss the conviction of Missouri woman, Lori Drew, who was accused of using the social networking sight to emotionally harass a lovesick 13-year-old girl who subsequently committed suicide in October 2006.

Prosecuting attorneys had attempted to use a federal anti-hacking law to convict Drew, but in a statement on Thursday, U.S. District Judge George Wu said that the statute was inappropriate to this case as well as unconstitutionally vague.

In May of last year a federal grand jury indicted Drew on three counts of accessing protected computers without authorization in order to obtain information to inflict emotional distress on the young girl.  She was also indicted on one count of criminal conspiracy. 

Drew admitted to creating a fake MySpace profile in which she and her daughter posed as a 16-year-old boy to tease and humiliate their 13-year-old neighbor, Megan Meier.  Meier, who had a history of depression and attention deficit disorder, hung herself in her bedroom closet in October 2006.

In the wake of the trial several jurisdictions are considering legislation that would legally prohibit harassment over the Internet.

Drew was scheduled for sentencing at Thursday's hearing and, had judge Wu not overturned the conviction, could have spent up to three years in a federal prison.

Judge Wu stated that he was tentatively granting the motion initiated by Meier's attorney's to throw out the convictions and that he would issue a final, written opinion in the coming weeks.

A number of legal experts across the country had issued scathing critiques of Drew's unprecedented conviction, arguing that the anti-hacking law used to convict her was intended for use against hackers who break into computers to steal information.

Lead prosecutor Thomas O'Brien said that he would wait to read judge Wu's written opinion before deciding whether to apply for an appeal of the verdict.

O'Brien has also said that the prosecuting team is still considering whether to pursue a retrial for the felony conspiracy charges on which the jury was not able to reach a verdict.

"The prosecution of Lori Drew was a case I felt strongly I had to pursue. I believe it warranted a serious sentence," he told reporters. O'Brien also denied accusations by the defense lawyer, H. Dean Howard, that he was prosecuting Drew in an attempt to advance his career.

Tina Meier, Megan's mother, said she was "extremely upset with the decision the judge made," but also said that Drew likely has a punishment of a different kind with which she will have to deal.

"I wouldn't want to be in Lori Drew's shoes and live her life," she added. "I think she is already living a life sentence."


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