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Tricky Cross in Trial of Woman Accused of Taunting Teen to Death

LOS ANGELES - (CN) In the prosecution of a Missouri woman accused of tormenting a neighbor's child to the point of suicide through the Internet, the defense lawyer gently cross-examined the dead girl's mother in a delicate effort to push blame back on her. The prosecution answered with testimony from an insider who wrote the last, chilling taunt to the victim, "The world would be better off without you."

A parade of witnesses testifying in Federal Court in Los Angeles drew a picture of a Midwestern suburb where the Drew family teamed up to torment the young and popular daughter of the neighboring Meier family, by creating a fictional identity on My Space as a 16-year-old boy named Josh.

The accused, Lori Drew, bragged about the scheme at her local beauty salon at one point. She again visited the salon, according to testimony by one of the hairdressers, just before going to the wake for 13-year-old Megan Meier.

Confronted by the women at the salon, Drew said, "I didn't pull the trigger."

The prosecution's goal appeared to be to show that in essence Lori Drew did pull the trigger, by pushing the scheme forward at critical points when the others wanted to back out, knowing all the while that the victim was a mentally fragile teenager.

U.S. Attorney Tom O'Brien who is personally handling the case is working through a statute that prohibits computer fraud and lists, deep within the statute, intentional infliction of mental distress as one of the offenses.

Defense lawyer Dean Steward has moved repeatedly for a mistrial, arguing that the girl's death has nothing to do with the offense that is being prosecuted and can only prejudice the jury. He renewed his mistrial motion at the end of the wrenching, direct testimony of Tina Meier, the mother of the girl who died.

Meier testified to a near-obsession by her daughter with My Space and with the 16-year-old boy named Josh. Overcoming one of the prosecution's difficulties with evidence of computer conversations by the dead girl, the mother said she sat next to her daughter much of the time and was the only who could log her onto her My Space account.

On the fatal afternoon, however, Tina Meier took Megan's sister to an orthodontist appointment, leaving Megan at the computer with the account open. By the time the mother had returned, an Internet brawl had taken place, with insults thrown back and forth and Megan sobbing.

Meier said she chastised her daughter, whose final words were, "You're supposed to me on my side."

The daughter then ran to her room while the parents talked in the kitchen. About a half hour later, said Meier, she felt her stomache drop. She ran upstairs and found her daughter hanging from a belt in the closet.

In cross-examining Myers, defense lawyer Steward established that the child had been depressive since the third grade and was taking three separate psychiatric drugs, one of which had a suicidal side effect. He also suggested through his questions that Megan would pretend to be older and would flirt on the Internet, and that Meier knew she and her daughter were violating My Space terms of use by establishing an account for someone under 14.

The lawyer humanized himself by mentioning that he had four children and by treading gently with the mother. For example, in portraying a family that seemed immersed in the personal use of the computer, he asked about an argument between Myers and her husband concerning what the husband was looking at on the Internet.

Steward said that out of respect for Meier he would not go further into the topic, showing forbearance while also suggesting that the husband's use of the computer was tawdry. He also pressed on the point that Meier had frequent arguments with her husband and that this appeared to have a strong, depressing effect on their daughter.

As he concluded, Steward's voice rose, "Crying, depressed, she ran up the stairs, and you left her there!"

Meier began to answer, saying, "That happens when you have children," but the lawyer cut her off. "Thank you, I have no further questions."

Tomorrow's report will cover the insider's testimony.

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