LOS ANGELES (CN) – Jurors in the MySpace trial over a teenager’s suicide on Tuesday convicted defendant Lori Drew on three misdemeanor counts for unauthorized computer access. Said one juror, “They were trying to defend their kid.”
Jurors interviewed after the verdict saw events leading up the death of 13-year-old Megan Meiers as part of a long and volatile friendship between two neighbor girls.
The death of Megan two years ago was widely publicized as the result of emotional torment from a neighboring mother who created a fake MySpace account in the name of Josh Evans, a good-looking 16-year-old who then struck up an Internet relationship with Megan.
U.S. Attorney Tom O’Brien brought the criminal case in Los Angeles after Missouri prosecutors rejected it. The prosecution team sought to prove four felony counts for unauthorized entry into a computer with the intent of inflicting emotional distress
But jurors convicted on only three lesser misdemeanor counts for unauthorized access of a computer with the purpose of gathering information.
The trial showed that three people were involved in creating the fake MySpace account, the mother Lori Drew, her 13-year-old daughter Sarah Drew and 18-year-old Ashley Grills who worked for the mother. But the principal architect of the fake Josh Evans persona was employee Grills who found a photo on Google that matched a “skater” type and then gave him characteristics sure to appeal to a young teenager.
Josh Evans was rebellious and had problems with parents and was home-schooled this last attribute designed to avoid having anyone check on him through school. Almost everyone involved in the case was overweight and Grills, writing as Josh Evans, said weight did not matter to him.
His persona eventually made Megan fall in love, only to crush her in a final Internet battle of insults.
But the original intent of the three people involved in the deception, as both government and defense witnesses testified, was to find out what Megan was saying about Sarah. She had heard rumors that Megan was calling her fat, and dirty and a lesbian.
“They were trying to defend their kid,” said juror Marcilo who did not want to give his last name. “Instead of going across the street” to confront the neighbors, “they thought this was the latest thing, they had this idea, why not try the Internet. It’s such a craze with the kids.”
During the trial, prosecutors emphasized the fact that Megan was emotionally weak.
But the proof cut both ways.
In cross-examining Megan’s mother, Tina Meiers, defense lawyer Dean Steward established that Megan was taking three different psychiatric medicines, and had battled depresssion since the third grade. He also established that Tina fought with her husband, suggesting another factor in the child’s despondency.
“A lot of things contributed to that suicide,” said juror Marcilo who works as a systems analyst for a Southern California city.
“I couldn’t leave the blame just on them,” he said of the defendant and her daughter. “Other people were online. And the environment of the neighborhood.”
The trial testimony suggested a community where neighbors were tied by their Christian church, through their school and through their families. The Meiers family lived four houses down from the Drew family.
“It was close-knit,” said the juror. “They (the Drews) wanted to know what was going on.”
As part of the government’s case, O’Brien portrayed defendant Lori Drew’s behavior as outrageous, saying she bragged about the MySpace deception at her hair salon and thought it was funny.
But another juror rejected that portrayal. “She was kind of flip at the hair salon,” said Shirley who did not want to give her last name. “But she was just being a woman. Talking about her kids, what’s going on.”
Juror Shirley, a former accountant, said defendant Lori Drew was not the mastermind of the deception. “It was mostly Ashley, and a little bit Sarah. They wanted to find out what was going on.”
“Kids can be cruel,” she added. “Teenage girls get into fights. They had gotten into spats before.”
After the verdict was announced, the U.S. Attorney said in a press conference, “I am comfortable with the convictions.”
He noted that the Internet is a now a forum for a wide variety of crimes, from fraud to child pornography. “If you have children,” said O’Brien, “and they are on the Internet, and you are not watching, you better be.”
Asked what legal obstacles he thought he would face in taking on the case, O’Brien said, “This case turned out to be a battle.”
The evidence during the trial fell into two big areas: proof that Drew had made intentional and unauthorized use of a computer and proof that she had intended to inflict emotional distress.
To help in establishing this half of the case, prosecutors elicited testimony from Grills, the 18-year-old employee, who testified under immunity. Grills testified that she had told Lori Drew that it was illegal to have a fake my space account and Drew had said it was OK, everybody did it. Both O’Brien and AUSA Mark Krause relied on that testimony in closing arguments.
But the jury flummoxed expectations.
They clearly had no problem convicting Drew for unauthorized access of a computer, since that is also an element of the lesser included misdemeanors on which they agreed.
The apparently easier part of the prosecution’s case, proving intentional infliction of emotional distress, is where the jury balked. They did not believe the conduct of establishing the fake account rose to the level of outrageousness required for intentional infliction of emotional distress. continued<