Commentary

Judge In MySpace Case Punts

The judge presiding over the landmark Lori Drew trial -- a/k/a the MySpace suicide case -- said today he isn't yet ready to decide whether to dismiss the charges on the ground that the prosecution hadn't presented enough evidence.

This decision to postpone ruling on the crucial issue does nothing more than prolong a case that should have never been indicted, much less brought to trial.

Drew allegedly helped hatch a plan to create a fake profile of a boy, "Josh," who sent flirtatious, then hurtful, messages to 13-year-old Megan Meier, who used to be friends with Drew's daughter. Drew herself didn't send the final message -- a statement that the world would be a better place without Megan. That email came from now 20-year-old Ashley Grills, the former babysitter for Drew's daughter. That message also wasn't sent on MySpace.

The authorities in Missouri decided that Drew had not committed any crime and didn't take steps to prosecute her. But that judgment carried no weight with federal prosecutors in Los Angeles, who obtained an indictment against Drew for computer fraud. Their theory is that she committed fraud because the pseudonymous profile violated MySpace's terms of service.

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But at trial last week, the chief witness against Drew, Ashley Grills, testified that she, not Drew, was the one who clicked through the terms of service page and then created the "Josh" profile. In other words, Drew is accused of intentionally violating terms of service that she never read and she never agreed to abide by.

It's hard to see how this activity can possibly constitute computer fraud. Clearly, however, people are outraged that an adult allegedly involved herself in the chain of events that culminated in Megan's suicide. Some are so incensed that they're willing to convict Drew of anything, regardless of whether her acts fall within the definition of computer fraud.

Just as juries engage in nullification when they want to acquit a defendant who might be guilty, but who they believe was justified, the Lori Drew jury might well convict her out of hatred, regardless of whether she committed the offense she's charged with.

It's up to the judge to make sure that never happens. He shouldn't delay dismissing this case any longer.

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