LOS ANGELES – The daughter of a woman accused of orchestrating a cruel Internet hoax against a 13-year-old girl who committed suicide took the witness stand Friday to defend her mother.
Sarah Drew, 16, said her mother, Lori Drew, initially thought it was a good idea to create a fictitious boy on a MySpace account to find out if Megan Meier was spreading rumors about Sarah.
But Sarah said her mother told a business assistant to shut down the MySpace account two weeks after it was created — well before the final message was sent saying the world would be better off if Megan was dead.
Megan, who had been treated for attention deficit disorder and depression, hanged herself in October 2006 after receiving the message.
Lori Drew has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy and accessing computers without authorization. If convicted of all counts, Drew faces up to 20 years in prison.
Sarah's testimony capped a week of emotional and sometimes touchy proceedings in what is believed to be the nation's first cyber-bullying trial.
Sarah broke down under cross-examination by U.S. Attorney Thomas O'Brien as she described how Megan had confided in her about her suicidal thoughts, but Sarah didn't tell anyone.
The trial also took another twist when U.S. District Judge George Wu said he will rule Monday on a defense motion calling for the dismissal of charges against the 49-year-old Drew.
Prosecutors say Drew, her business assistant Ashley Grills and Sarah created the MySpace alias of a teen boy called "Josh Evans" in September 2006 to befriend Megan.
Sarah told jurors her mother thought inventing "Josh" was a good idea but changed her mind two weeks later and told Grills to shut it down. Sarah also said she tried to stop Grills from sending the final message.
"I was like, Ashley, no, don't send it," Sarah said. "She said she sent it and laughed about it."
Sarah testified she never saw her mother use the MySpace account. Her statement contradicted testimony by Grills that she had seen Drew type at least one message and court documents alleging Drew told authorities she typed, read and monitored the chat between "Josh" and Megan.
Sarah said it was her father, not her mother, who told her and Grills to delete the MySpace account after they learned Megan had hanged herself. Grills testified Thursday it was both Sarah's parents who made the request.
On cross-examination by the prosecution, Sarah said she often forgave Megan, who she considered her best friend, for saying mean things about her. She also denied having a role in her friend's death.
Sarah said Megan confided in her on two occasions that she wanted to kill herself.
"She was like, I don't know if I could live anymore," she said of one instance. "I told her not to do it."
Sarah cried on the witness stand and nodded when O'Brien questioned her about why she didn't tell any adults about the suicide conversations.
Defense attorney Dean Steward stood up and lashed out at the region's top federal prosecutor for badgering the teenage girl.
"Come on, 'yes or no,' not a head nod. Be a professional!" Steward bellowed. Drew shot icy stares at O'Brien but showed no other reaction.
Sarah was visibly shaken as she left the courtroom and wept as she passed Megan's parents Ron and Tina Meier. Outside court, Drew tried to calm her daughter.
Steward said his client would not testify at the trial.
Judge Wu said he intends to review testimony and issue a ruling on the dismissal motion by the defense claiming Drew cannot be held responsible for violating the service rules of the MySpace social networking site because she never read them.
While making the dismissal motion, Steward argued that neither Drew nor Sarah or Grills had read the rules.
"The best view of the government's evidence is ambiguous at best," Steward said.
That prompted Wu to question Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Krause about the charges in the ongoing trial.
"How would they know if they didn't read the terms of service?" Wu asked.
Krause said Grills had testified that she knew they could get in trouble for the hoax, and that a computer forensics analysis showed a MySpace account had been deleted from Drew's computer after the suicide of Megan.
Steward called his own expert who testified Friday she could not find any evidence that the account had been deleted from Drew's computer.
Jae Sung, a vice president of customer care at MySpace, testified that MySpace requires users to check a box agreeing to the rules prohibiting such things as online harassment.
Sung's testimony addressed a central aspect of the prosecution case alleging that Drew violated MySpace service terms by harassing Megan and setting up a fake account. Sung said "impostor profiles" such as the "Josh" account in this case are not allowed under MySpace guidelines.
"What happens when they are found?" Krause asked.
"We generally delete those profiles," Sung said.
Sung said MySpace now has 400 million profiles for users, which makes it difficult to enforce the service rules.