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Mo. woman pleads not guilty to charges related to MySpace suicide

By The Associated Press
06.17.08

LOS ANGELES — A Missouri woman yesterday pleaded not guilty in Los Angeles federal court to charges in an Internet hoax blamed for a 13-year-old girl's suicide.

Lori Drew, 49, stood quietly beside her attorney. She pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy and accessing protected computers without authorization to get information used to inflict emotional distress. She is free on $20,000 bond.

The proceeding lasted only a few minutes. Drew and her lawyer declined to comment to reporters waiting outside the courtroom.

Drew, of suburban St. Louis, is accused of helping to create a MySpace account that appeared to belong to a 16-year-old boy named Josh Evans. The boy did not exist.

Drew's daughter had been a friend of 13-year-old neighbor Megan Meier and the fake account was used to send cruel messages to the girl, including one stating the world would be better off without her. Megan hanged herself in 2006.

Drew has denied creating the account or sending messages to Meier.

The charges were filed in California where MySpace is based. MySpace is a subsidiary of Beverly Hills-based Fox Interactive Media Inc., which is owned by News Corp.

Drew's case was assigned to U.S. District Judge George Wu. Drew’s trial is scheduled for July 29. A status conference was scheduled for June 26. U.S. attorney's spokesman Thom Mrozek said Drew would be allowed to return home pending trial.

Each of the four counts against Drew carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

Drew's lawyer has said he will challenge the charges.

Experts have said the case could break new ground in Internet law. The statute used to indict Drew usually applies to Internet hackers who illegally access accounts to get information.

U.S. Attorney Thomas P. O'Brien has acknowledged this is the first time the federal statute on accessing protected computers has been used in a social-networking case.

Rebecca Lonergan, a former federal prosecutor who now teaches law at the University of Southern California, has said use of statute, known as the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, may be open to challenge.

Lonergan said the crimes covered by the law involve obtaining information from a computer, not sending messages out to harass someone.

"Here it is the flow of information away from the computer," she said. "It's a very creative, aggressive use of the statute. But they may have a legally tough time meeting the elements."

James Chadwick, a Palo Alto attorney who specializes in Internet and media law, said he had never seen the statute applied to the sending of messages.

He said it was probable that liability for the girl's death would not be an issue in the case. "As tragic as it is," he said, "You can't start imposing liability on people for being cruel."

Missouri police didn't file any charges against Drew in part because there was no applicable state law. In response to the case, Missouri legislators gave final approval to a bill making cyber harassment illegal. Gov. Matt Blunt signed S.B. 818 into law on June 6. It is scheduled to go into effect Aug. 28.


Update
Feds defend use of cyber law in MySpace suicide case
Rebutting defense motion to dismiss case, prosecutors argue statute used to indict Lori Drew applies even though it's usually used against hackers who illegally obtain info from computers. 08.13.08

Previous
Mo. woman charged in MySpace suicide case
Federal grand jury in California has indicted Lori Drew for her alleged role in perpetrating hoax against 13-year-old neighbor who killed herself. 05.16.08

Related

Mo. lawmakers vote to bar Internet harassment

Governor praises new cyberstalking law, a response to suicide of state teen who was teased online. 05.19.08

Mo. governor signs anti-cyberbullying bill into law

Teen's suicide prompts state to outlaw Internet harassment; girl's mother says even more needs to be done to keep kids safe online. 07.01.08

For better or worse, wild wild Web being fenced in
By Gene Policinski Legislation, court decisions, self-imposed restrictions and private vendor rules are creating limits in wide-open speech country. 07.13.08

Cyberstalking

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