LOS ANGELES – Lori Drew has garnered headlines because she has been painted as a vindictive mother whose actions allegedly led to a 13-year-old girl's suicide.
But when jury selection begins Tuesday in a Los Angeles federal courtroom, a judge said he would instruct jurors that the case is about whether the 49-year-old Missouri mother violated the terms of service of the MySpace social networking site, not about whether she caused the suicide of Megan Meier.
Drew has pleaded not guilty to one count of conspiracy and three counts of accessing computers without authorization. Each count carries a potential sentence of five years in prison.
U.S. District Judge George Wu said he considered a defense motion to exclude evidence of the suicide from the trial, but he decided it would be futile since people being called for jury duty most likely know about it.
Prosecutors have presented a compelling narrative of neighborhood discord and death in the town of Dardenne Prairie, Mo.
Drew's lawyer, Dean Steward, argued that once jurors hear the story, they will not see it as a case about violating rules in cyberspace.
"They will conclude it's about the tragic death of a young girl," he said. "The jury is going to end up thinking that Lori Drew is being tried for the death of Megan Meier."
Drew is accused of helping create a false-identity account on the social networking site then posing as a teenage boy and befriending Megan.
Prosecutors said Meier hanged herself in 2006 after allegedly receiving messages on the fake account saying the world would be better off without her. She was being treated for attention deficit disorder and depression.
Steward said outside court that part of Drew's defense would be that she was not at home when the message was sent.
Megan's death was investigated by Missouri authorities, but no state charges were filed because no laws appeared to apply to the case. But in California, U.S. Attorney Thomas P. O'Brien, noting that MySpace was headquartered in Los Angeles, found a statute that seemed to apply.
O'Brien said this was the first time the federal statute on accessing protected computers has been used in a social-networking case. It had been used in the past to address computer hacking.