MySpace hoax case on verge of dismissal

By The Associated Press
07.03.09

LOS ANGELES — A federal judge provisionally threw out the convictions of a Missouri mother yesterday for her role in a MySpace hoax directed at a 13-year-old neighbor girl who ended up committing suicide.

The ruling was to be final when issued in writing.

U.S. District Judge George Wu said he was provisionally acquitting Lori Drew of misdemeanor counts of accessing computers without authorization.

Drew was convicted in November, but the judge said that if she was to be found guilty of illegally accessing computers, anyone who had ever violated the social-networking site's terms of service also would be guilty of a misdemeanor.

Prosecutors had sought the maximum three-year prison sentence and a $300,000 fine, but it had been uncertain going into yesterday's hearing whether Drew would be sentenced.

Wu had given a lengthy review to a defense request for dismissal, delaying Drew's sentencing from May to go over testimony from two prosecution witnesses.

Much attention has been paid to Drew's case, primarily because it was the nation's first cyberbullying trial. The trial was held in Los Angeles because MySpace's servers are in the area.

Prosecutors say Drew sought to humiliate Megan Meier by helping create a fictitious teen boy on MySpace and sending flirtatious messages to the girl in his name. The fake boy then dumped Megan in a message saying the world would be better without her.

Megan hanged herself a short time later in October 2006 in the St. Louis suburb of Dardenne Prairie, Mo.

Drew was not directly charged with causing Megan's death. Instead, prosecutors indicted her under the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which in the past has been used in hacking and trademark-theft cases.

Drew's attorney, Dean Steward, maintained that charges should never have been brought against his client and that the prosecution's decision to seek a three-year prison sentence for misdemeanor convictions was "shocking."

Wu acknowledged in May he was concerned that sending Drew to prison for violating a Web site's service terms might set a dangerous precedent. Wu at the time noted that millions of people don't read service terms, as happened in Drew's case.