MySpace suicide case brings misdemeanor convictions

A woman accused of creating a fake MySpace account to torment a girl who later committed suicide was convicted on misdemeanor counts.

A US woman accused of creating a fake MySpace account to torment a girl who later committed suicide has been convicted on three misdemeanor counts but acquitted of felony charges.

A jury in the US District Court for the Central District of California, in Los Angeles, convicted Lori Drew on three counts of illegally accessing a computer system by creating a MySpace account under an assumed name, said Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the US attorney's office in Los Angeles. She could be sentenced to as much as a year in prison and a US$100,000 fine for each of the three counts, he said.

After a trial of about a week and nearly a day of deliberations, the jury acquitted Drew on similar charges at a felony level, which could have brought sentences of five years each. It deadlocked on a count of conspiracy. The defense has requested a new trial on the three misdemeanors, and Judge George Wu has set a hearing on that motion for December 29. The defense also made a motion to have the case dismissed, on which Wu might rule at any time, Mrozek said. Because of the pending motions, no sentencing date has been set.

Drew was accused of setting up a fake MySpace account of a good-looking teenage boy, "Josh Evans," including a photo found on the Internet, in order to lure a neighbor girl into an online relationship in 2006 and then taunt her. "Josh" ultimately broke up with the girl, 13-year-old Megan Meier, who then hanged herself. The plan allegedly was hatched after Drew's daughter had a falling out with Meier.

The case drew worldwide attention as well as criticism from the Center for Democracy and Technology, which said the government was misusing an anti-hacking law.

The incident took place in O'Fallon, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. Authorities in Missouri did not pursue the case but the US attorney's office in Los Angeles did, seeking an indictment of Drew for illegally accessing the servers of MySpace, which is based in Beverly Hills, California. Setting up an account under an assumed name is a violation of MySpace's terms of service, Mrozek said. But he said the case doesn't signal a widespread crackdown on fake Internet accounts.

"We've never made any pretense that there's going to be a tsunami of prosecutions related to people posing under different names on the Internet," Mrozek said. "This is a very unique case that had very tragic consequences, and after a thorough review, we thought that it deserved to be indicted."

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Stephen Lawson

IDG News Service

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