MySpace Suicide Case: Sad Story, Not A Crime

The judge in the MySpace suicide case said this week that he might not let the prosecution tell the jury that 13-year-old Megan Meier killed herself, allegedly as a result of online harassment.

If so, that would be the one sensible decision to date in this case -- a case that should never have been brought, let alone gotten this far in court.

There's no question that the facts are tragic. Megan Meier, a teen with a history of depression, hanged herself after receiving cruel messages on her MySpace account. Those messages came from an account that Lori Drew allegedly helped create to keep tabs on Megan, who at one time had been friends with Drew's daughter.

Drew allegedly helped create a fake profile of a boy, "Josh," who sent flirtatious, then hurtful, messages to Megan. Drew herself didn't send the final message -- a statement that the world would be a better place without Megan. That email came from 19-year-old Ashley Grills, the former babysitter for Drew's daughter. It's not clear whether any of the other, earlier messages were sent by Drew.



Confronted with these facts, prosecutors in Missouri decided that no crime had been committed and declined to bring charges against Drew.

Nonetheless, federal prosecutors in Los Angeles decided to seek an indictment against Drew -- but for computer fraud. Their theory is that she committed fraud by signing up for MySpace under a fake name.

The problem with that charge is that using a pseudonym isn't fraudulent. If anything, there's a long history in the U.S. protecting people's right to speak both anonymously and under fake names. And if signing up for social networking sites under a fake name is computer fraud, then many, many Web users are now at risk of prosecution.

Regardless, if the fraud charge here is based on Drew's actions at the time she allegedly created the account, then what happened later is irrelevant.

Some reports have suggested that the prosecution will be forced to withdraw its case if it can't tell the jury about the suicide. If so, that would be the right outcome to this entire sad situation.

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