Mom convicted of lesser charges in hoax
Faces maximum 3 years in jail in Internet scheme
LOS ANGELES - A Missouri mother on trial in a landmark cyberbullying case was convicted yesterday of only three minor offenses for her role in a mean-spirited Internet hoax that apparently drove a 13-year-old girl to suicide.
The federal jury could not reach a verdict on the main charge against 49-year-old Lori Drew - conspiracy - and rejected three other felony counts of accessing computers without authorization to inflict emotional harm.
Instead, the panel found Drew guilty of three misdemeanor offenses of accessing computers without authorization. Each count is punishable by up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine. Drew could have gotten 20 years if convicted of the four original charges.
US District Judge George Wu declared a mistrial on the conspiracy count. There was no immediate word on whether prosecutors would retry her.
"I don't have any satisfaction in the jury's decision," said Drew's lawyer, Dean Steward. "I don't think these charges should have ever been brought."
Tina Meier, the mother of the dead girl, said Drew deserves the maximum of three years behind bars.
"For me it's never been about vengeance," she said. "This is about justice."
Prosecutors said Drew and two others created a fictitious 16-year-old boy on MySpace and sent flirtatious messages from him to teenage neighbor Megan Meier. The "boy" then dumped Megan in 2006, saying, "The world would be a better place without you." Megan promptly hanged herself with a belt in her bedroom closet.
Prosecutors said Drew wanted to humiliate Megan for saying mean things about Drew's teenage daughter. They said Drew knew Megan suffered from depression and was emotionally fragile.
"Lori Drew decided to humiliate a child," US Attorney Thomas O'Brien, chief federal prosecutor in Los Angeles, told the jury during closing arguments. "The only way she could harm this pretty little girl was with a computer. She chose to use a computer to hurt a little girl, and for four weeks she enjoyed it."
O'Brien, who pronounced the case the nation's first cyberbullying trial, said the jury's decision sent a message: "If you have children who are on the Internet, and you are not watching what they are doing, you better be."
Most members of the six-man, six-woman jury left court without speaking to reporters. One juror, who identified himself by his first name only, Marcilo, indicated jurors were not convinced Drew's actions involved the intent alleged by prosecutors.
The case hinged on an unprecedented - and, some legal experts say, highly questionable - application of computer-fraud law.
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.
After the suicide, Missouri passed a law against cyber-harassment. Similar federal legislation has been proposed.