Woman Accused in MySpace Suicide Case Seeks to Have All Charges Dismissed

Lori Drew is charged with conspiracy and accessing a computer system without authorization over messages sent to 13-year-old Megan Meier.
Lori Drew is charged with conspiracy and accessing a computer system without authorization over messages sent to 13-year-old Megan Meier. (By Bill Robles -- Associated Press)
By Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 24, 2008

The lawyer for a Missouri mother accused of creating a fake MySpace page to harass a 13-year-old girl is arguing that charges should be tossed out of court because if she is guilty, then so are millions of Internet users every day.

Lori Drew became the focus of national outrage after the girl committed suicide. Court papers filed yesterday seize on a possible weakness in the prosecution case that has been noted by several legal experts since the May indictment: While Drew's alleged behavior may have been wrong, there is no legal sanction against it.

In charging Drew, prosecutors relied on their belief that she, like countless others on social networks such as MySpace, created a fake identity -- in this case, a 16-year-old boy, "Josh Evans," who flirted with and then rejected 13-year-old Megan Meier.

Because the false profile violated MySpace policy, prosecutors charged Drew with four counts based on her accessing a computer system "without authorization." In doing so, they relied on a statute commonly wielded against hackers and information thieves.

Drew was charged with one count of conspiracy and three counts of accessing a computer without authorization and via interstate commerce to obtain information to inflict emotional distress. Each count carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

"The government, in its zeal to charge Lori Drew with something, anything, has tried to criminalize everyday, ordinary conduct: the wayward or misuse of a social-network website," defense attorney H. Dean Steward wrote in a motion to dismiss that was filed yesterday.

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office declined to comment.

Drew's alleged harassment of Meier is often cited as an example of boorish behavior on the Web, where the freedom of electronic communication has often devolved into vitriol and vulgarity.

But whether such behavior can be or should be legally regulated is disputed.

Prosecutors say Drew created the "Josh Evans" identity in order to strike up a flirty conversation with Meier, who had been friends with her daughter. After a few weeks of chatting, "Josh Evans" began to send Megan nasty messages. Finally, her father said, one suggested that "the world would be a better place'' without her.

In October 2006, soon after allegedly receiving the message, Meier hanged herself in her bedroom.

The resulting public outrage led state and federal prosecutors in Missouri to examine the case.

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