LOS ANGELES – A federal judge on Monday questioned whether prosecutors were correct in bringing charges against a Missouri mother who was involved in a MySpace hoax directed at a 13-year-old neighbor who ended up committing suicide.
U.S. District Judge George Wu had been scheduled to sentence Lori Drew on three misdemeanor counts of accessing computers without authorization. However, Wu delayed sentencing until July 2, saying he wanted to review the testimony of two prosecution witnesses.
Wu squared off with Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Krause for more than an hour about a defense motion seeking to dismiss Drew's conviction. The judge wondered whether Drew should have been indicted under the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which in the past has been used in hacking and trademark theft cases.
"Using this particular statute is so weird," Wu said.
He also was concerned that sentencing Drew for violating a Web site's service terms might set a dangerous precedent. He said millions of people either don't read service terms, as happened in Drew's case, or give false information.
"Wouldn't that constitute a misdemeanor if the court adopts the government's position in this case?" Wu asked.
Much attention has been paid to Drew's case, primarily because it was the nation's first cyberbullying trial.
Prosecutors said Drew sought to humiliate Megan Meier by helping create a fictitious teen boy with the help of her then-13-year-old daughter Sarah and business assistant Ashley Grills on MySpace and sending flirtatious messages to the girl in his name.
The fake boy then dumped Megan in a message saying the world would be better without her. She hanged herself a short time later in October 2006.
Prosecutors believe Drew and her daughter, who was friends with Megan, created the profile to find out if Megan was spreading rumors about Sarah. Grills testified she received a message from Megan in mid-2006, calling Drew's daughter a lesbian.
Grills, who testified under a promise of immunity, allegedly sent the final, insulting message to Megan before she killed herself in the St. Louis suburb of Dardenne Prairie.
Prosecutors said Megan sent a response saying, "`You are the kind of boy a girl would kill herself over."'
In November, jurors decided Drew was not guilty of the more serious felonies of intentionally causing emotional harm while accessing computers without authorization. The jury could not reach a unanimous verdict on a felony conspiracy charge.
While jurors didn't find Drew guilty of the more serious felonies, Krause argued that she should be sentenced to the maximum of three years in prison. He said Drew and her co-conspirators gained Megan's confidence posing as "Josh Evans," "figured out her pressure points and were able to inflict emotional distress" upon the girl.
When asked by Wu what crime was committed, Krause said Drew accessed a computer without authorization or exceeded its access to obtain information. Krause added that Grills testified she told Drew what they were doing online was illegal, but Drew let the hoax continue.
Defense attorney Dean Steward has argued that charges should have never been brought against his client and prosecutors are adamant about making Drew a public symbol of cyberbullying.
"The government continues to put a square peg in a round hole," Steward told the judge.
He also objected to having Megan's parents speak in court, saying MySpace, not the teen's family, is the victim in this case.
However, both Ron and Tina Meier spoke on Monday.
Ron Meier, his voice trembling, said he's lived in seclusion since his daughter's death and believes Megan was bullied by Drew.
"It just sickens me that it was an adult who was playing with the mind of a 13-year-old," he said as Drew looked on. "I truly believe prisons were made for people like Lori Drew."
Probation officials recommended Drew be placed on probation for one year and fined $5,000.