LOS ANGELES (CN) – A teen witness broke down in tears Friday under questioning from U.S. Attorney Tom O’Brien, who is attempting to prove that the child’s mother is guilty of using a computer to hound a neighbor girl to death. But the witness recovered and continued in her effort to exonerate her mother.
The defense initially called 15-year-old Sarah Drew to the witness stand as part of a traditional defense tactic of trying to turn the finger of blame toward another person. In this case, that other person is Ashley Grills, an 18-year-old at the time, who was deeply involved in the cyber-bullying that led 13-year-old Megan Meiers to kill herself.
The final and apparently fatal communication to Meiers was, “The world would be better off without you.”
Sarah, who was 13 at the time, testified that she stood behind Grills as she typed those words. “I said, ‘No Ashley, you cannot send it.’ But she sent it anyway and laughed about it.”
Grills is the insider who has testified for the prosecution under immunity. She testified that an Internet brawl had erupted between Meiers, a couple of other girls, and the fake MySpace persona of Josh Evans, a good-looking 16-year-old boy who was in fact created and controlled by Grills and the Drew family.
The striking testimony by Grills was that she, Sarah and Sarah’s father were acting collectively during that final Internet battle, shouting out potential insults and then deciding on the best one before Grills typed the words on Megan’s MySpace page.
Importantly for the prosecution, Grills also testified that she and Sarah wanted to back out of the deception, because “it’s illegal to have a fake MySpace page.” The mother, Lori Drew, reassured them that it was OK, thereby egging them on.
But the mother, who is the defendant in the case, was not home during the final fight on the Internet, a matter that presents a problem for the prosecution. She returned later, something that her daughter emphasized both in her direct examination by defense lawyer Dean Steward and on cross-examination by O’Brien.
The deeper and more tragic tale that came out the young girl’s testimony was that she and the victim had been close friends who often fought and traded insults, only to make up and be friends again.
“She was my best friend,” Sarah said of Megan. She testified that Megan had traveled with the Drew family on a number of holidays and on one long vacation.
They would fight, calling each other fat and ugly, but Sarah said she “would always accept (Megan) back as a friend.”
She testified that Megan had moved to a private school, something that upset Sarah. Then she heard a rumor that Megan was gossiping, saying “that I was a lesbian, that I was dirty, that my mom never washed my clothes, that I was fat and ugly.”
Sarah said Grills dreamed up the scheme to create the fake persona of a bare-chested hunk in order to find out what was being said about Sarah. But throughout the trial, the prosecution suggested a more vindictive motive for creating Josh Evans: revenge.
The 13-year-old Sarah testified that she only used the fake persona once.
She said it was to find out how Megan was doing. “She told me she got detention for chewing gum.”
Early in his cross-examination, U.S. Attorney O’Brien asked, “Do you feel you had any role in the fact that she is no longer here?”
“No,” Sara replied, adding a moment later: “I’m a good person.”
“I’m sure you are,” O’Brien said.
But as the prosecutor bore down on a critical aspect of the government’s case an effort to show that the Drews knew that Megan was fragile and potentially suicidal the witness began to break down.
Sarah testified that Megan had once told her, “I don’t know if I can live any longer.”
“I told her not to kill herself, that she was a good person,” the witness continued.
The defense lawyer rose to object, saying the counsel was close to badgering the witness.
He was overruled by Judge George Wu.
“You knew she was seeing a doctor,” O’Brien persisted.
The witness mumbled because she was beginning to cry, and O’Brien demanded, “Is that a yes or a no?”
“She is crying for God’s sake,” the defense lawyer protested.
The judge told him not to get on his high horse and turned to the witness continued