LOS ANGELES (CN) – The fate of a Missouri woman accused of harassing a teenager to the point of suicide is in the hands of the jury Tuesday morning, after U.S. Attorney Tom O’Brien said in final arguments, “She had a choice. She chose to use a computer to hurt a little girl. She enjoyed it, she laughed about it. You have a choice. Choose justice.”
With those final words, the case was given to the jury to decide if 47-year-old Lori Drew is guilty of computer fraud.
Witnesses in the trial described a plot hatched around a dinner table to get back at a depressed, overweight 13-year-old girl by inventing a character on MySpace, that of a 16-year-old boy named Josh Evans, who then electronically seduced 13-year-old Megan Meiers only to crush her in a final Internet fight.
Varying his cadence and using gut-level arguments, O’Brien told the jury, “She knew it was wrong. You know it is wrong for an adult to pose as a 16-year-old child to talk with a little girl.”
For the defense, Santa Barbara attorney Dean Steward warned the jury of the prosecutor’s persuasive tenor and his penchant for the dramatic pause. “He is going to ask you for vengeance. Not in those words. He is wrong. Please do not add to this tragedy by listening to the government. It’s not right.”
Steward attacked the government’s effort to fit the facts of the case into a statute primarily aimed at computer hackers, where the government must show intentional and unauthorized access of a computer.
The government is arguing that by helping in the establishment of an account for a fake child, Drew violated the terms of My Space which forbid using a false identity and using an account to harass others.
But the defense lawyer pointed out that most people do not read those terms and no witness had suggested that defendant Drew had read the 7-page, single-spaced set of terms that accompany a My Space account.
Steward reminded the jury that the statute requires a conscious decision to violate terms of access. “How can you violate something when you don’t even know what it is. That’s it, we’re done. End of case,” he said.
“It’s like trying to put a size 11 foot in a size 6 shoe,” he said. “These facts to do not fit this law.”
Telling the jury that he wished he had the guts to sit down at that point, and rest on that one argument, he moved on to suggest, carefully, that the victim was no Internet angel. She posed at one point as an 18-year-old sending sexually suggestive messages, and other times insulted Drew’s 13-year daughter as fat and as a lesbian, while engaging in “mutual combat” by means of Internet insults.
Shifting blame towards Megan’s mother, Tina Meiers, the defense lawyer noted that she was well aware of the Josh Evans persona and had in fact complained to local police about email messages from him where he asked, for example, if Megan wanted to touch his “pet snake.”
“Wouldn’t a reasonable person at that point just shut it down,” Steward asked the jury. But Tina Meiers nevertheless allowed her daughter to continue the Internet correspondence, with a tragic result.
On the government’s side, however, prosecutors had brought forward a substantial amount of testimony suggesting that defendant Drew was deeply enmeshed in the deception, enjoying it and bragging about it.
“She thought it was really funny,” argued Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Krause in the first part the government’s closing arguments.
He recalled the testimony of an 18-year-old friend of the Drew household who testified under a grant of immunity and who said that she and Drew’s daughter wanted to back out of the deception. But Lori Drew told them not to worry.
“She knew what they were doing was wrong and yet she ordered the two kids to continue,” said Krause.
While Krause both summarized the case and covered the nuts and bolts of the statute, it was left for U.S. Attorney O’Brien to emphasize in his rebuttal the emotional aspects of the case, particularly the fact that the victim was emotionally vulnerable and the defendant appeared to know it.
“She knew she was seeing a psychiatrist, she knew she was depressed,” said the prosecutor.
But when Drew went to the hair salon she told the women there, as testified to by one of the hairdressers, “I’ve got a funny story. We’re posing a boy to get back at a girl.”
He pointed to the cleverness of the defendant and her helpers in knowing that Megan Meiers was overweight and concerned about it. Writing as Josh Evans, they said weight did not matter to him. “Josh Evans liked her just the way she was. She not knowing that she was dealing with the cold manipulation of conspirators.”
He pointed dramatically to the defendant, “There’s Josh Evans.”
“It’s a tragedy,” O’Brien told the jury. “And what you have to determine is that it is a crime.”