Commentary

MySpace Jury Convicts Drew Of Misdemeanor Charges

In a compromise verdict, a jury returned a misdemeanor conviction in the landmark MySpace suicide case, convicting the defendant but rejecting the felony charges.

The jury found 49-year-old Lori Drew guilty of three misdemeanor counts of accessing a computer without authorization. The jurors couldn't reach a verdict on a fourth charge of conspiracy.

The prosecution charged Drew with four felony counts based on her role in hatching plans to create a fake profile of a boy, "Josh," who sent hurtful messages to 13-year-old Megan Meier. Megan, who used to be friends with Drew's daughter, hanged herself after receiving a final message from "Josh" that the world would be a better place without her.

Drew herself didn't send the messages, or even set up the account, according to the prosecution's chief witness, 20-year-old Ashley Grills, the former babysitter for Drew's daughter.

Nonetheless, the feds indicted Drew for computer fraud. The theory was that she acted in concert with Grills to violate MySpace's terms of service by creating a phony profile that was used to abuse Megan. The prosecution tried to bump up the charge to a felony on the theory that the purpose of the computer fraud was to commit the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress.

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This case is often referred to as a cyberbullying trial. But Drew was not charged with bullying. In fact, prosecutors in Missouri determined that they couldn't indict Drew for that because the state had no cyberbullying law on the books at the time.

That's why the federal authorities got involved, but the only crime they could come up with was computer fraud.

The problem is, if creating a fictitious profile on MySpace can constitute fraud, then many many other MySpace users could be hauled into court on fraud charges. Additionally, as digital rights groups argued, people have a First Amendment right to use pseudonyms online.

Drew's probably lucky that the jury didn't throw the book at her in this highly emotional case. But there was no sound legal basis for even the misdemeanor convictions that the jury returned.

The judge earlier reserved decision on a defense motion to toss the entire case. Clearly, he knew that if the jury acquitted Drew, he wouldn't need to decide whether the evidence was sufficient. But now that the jury has spoken, the judge should aside set the verdict and dismiss the indictment.

1 comment about "MySpace Jury Convicts Drew Of Misdemeanor Charges".
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  1. Charles Laughlin from The Kelsey Group, November 26, 2008 at 5:20 p.m.

    Whatever the legal issues, there is some pretty clear moral culpability here. What was she thinking? Boggles the mind what some so-called adults will do.

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