Published November 25, 2008
LOS ANGELES – Jurors suggested in a note to the judge late Tuesday that they had reached verdicts on three of four counts against a Missouri mother accused of conspiring to harass a 13-year-old girl with Internet messages that allegedly prompted her suicide.
The note sent on the first day of deliberations asked, "Can we be hung on one count but unanimous on the others?"
U.S. District Court Judge George Wu told the jury to return Wednesday and resume deliberations.
"If the jury is still at an impasse (tomorrow), hand me a note," he said.
Wu did not ask jurors which count was at issue, nor did he ask what the vote count was.
In Monday's closing arguments, prosecutors had stressed the emotional component — the suicide of Megan Meier, who was allegedly drawn into the Internet ruse devised by Lori Drew, the mother of Megan's one-time best friend.
She is accused of conspiring with her daughter, Sarah, then 13, and her 18-year-old assistant to cause emotional distress to Megan.
Drew has pleaded not guilty to one count of conspiracy and three counts of accessing computers without authorization. She could be sentenced to as many as 20 years in prison if convicted of all counts.
U.S. Attorney Thomas O'Brien portrayed Drew, 49, as the guiding force in a "mean" plan to humiliate Megan by inventing a make-believe boy named "Josh Evans" who would woo her on the MySpace Web site, then be revealed as nonexistent.
"Lori Drew decided to humiliate a child," O'Brien said in his summation. "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."
The defense said the case is a matter of computer law and accused prosecutors of misleading jurors into thinking it was a murder case.
"If you hadn't heard the indictment read to you, you'd think this was a homicide case," said Dean Steward, a defense attorney. "And it's not a homicide case. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a computer case, and that's what you need to decide."
Steward insisted the only question is whether Drew violated the terms-of-service agreement of MySpace. He said that Drew, her daughter and assistant Ashley Grills never read the seven-page agreement.
"Nobody reads these things, nobody," he said. "How can you violate something when you haven't even read it? End of case. The case is over."
The hoax ended with Megan never finding out that her online boyfriend did not exist. On Oct. 16, 2006, according to testimony, a message was sent from "Josh" to Megan telling her the world would be better off without her.
Shortly afterward, the girl went to her room and hanged herself in a closet. She died the next day.
The case is being prosecuted in Los Angeles because MySpace computer servers are based in the area.