Cyberbully mom convicted of misdemeanors

Lori Drew, whose MySpace hoax lead to the suicide of a 13-year-old girl, was convicted of three misdemeanors for unauthorized computer access. The federal jury deadlocked on the main charge, conspiracy, and rejected felony charges.

Prosecutors said Drew and two others created a fictitious 16-year-old boy on MySpace and sent flirtatious messages from him to teenage neighbor Megan Meier. The “boy” then dumped Megan in 2006, saying, “The world would be a better place without you.” Megan promptly hanged herself with a belt in her bedroom closet.

Prosecutors said Drew wanted to humiliate Megan for saying mean things about Drew’s teenage daughter. They said Drew knew Megan suffered from depression and was emotionally fragile.

Drew could face three years in prison and $300,000 in fines on the three misdemeanor counts.

It’s not clear what precedent this will set for people who use pseudonyms online.

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Comments

  1. Cardinal Fang says:

    I hope she gets the jail time. Most people who use pseudonyms online don’t also misrepresent themselves, so I don’t know why they’d be liable in the way Drew was.

    Now I’ll go off and fetch the comfy chair.

  2. This woman is despicable, but it’s scary to think that the government is trying to criminalize the act of emotionally humiliating someone. This is clearly something that should be a civil case. Drew wanted to hurt the girl, and something bad happened as a result. The family should be able to sue (and win) based on the recklessness of Drew’s actions. But making this a criminal matter is a very dangerous precedent, to put it mildly.

  3. Catch Thirty-Thr33 says:

    The girl was emotionally unhinged enough to hang herself of her own freewill, and the tormentor gets the blame??? No personal responsibility exists at all, I guess…

    What Lori Drew did was despicable. HOWEVER, ultimately, the girl hanged HERSELF and clearly she was in very deep trouble and emotional distress to take that drastic measure. If someone is in that deep a world of hurt that suicide seems the only option, it takes more than one person to push that someone off a cliff. What Mrs. Drew did was revolting. But was it criminal? No.

  4. Catch 33, what both you and David McElroy seem not to notice is that the fact of Drew’s suicide, or injury to her whatsoever, was not an element of any of the crimes she was prosecuted for. It’s legally irrelevant to the criminal case, though obviously would and should be the centerpiece of any civil suit.

    Will she get some jail time? I imagine so. Will she get three years? I’d bet money against it: unless someone has majorly serious priors, they don’t get maxed out consecutive on misdemeanors. Without knowing anything about the judge, I’d guess something like 60 days at the most, followed by two years’ probation.

  5. I meant Meiers’ suicide, obviously.

  6. Dave J, if there hadn’t been a suicide, there wouldn’t have been a prosecution. To pretend otherwise is disingenuous. Besides, the idea that violating the MySpace terms of service is a criminal offense is absurd. Do you honestly think that the federal government is going to start prosecuting (or SHOULD prosecute) everyone who violates the terms of service on web sites? This was prosecuted ONLY because of the public pressure to prosecute the woman who drove the girl to suicide, IMO.

  7. Cardinal Fang says:

    The girl was emotionally unhinged enough to hang herself of her own freewill, and the tormentor gets the blame??? No personal responsibility exists at all, I guess…

    An adult neighbor, knowing full well a young teenage girl is emotionally unstable, hounds her to death, and you give the girl the blame? I believe in personal responsibility, and I’d like to see Drew take some of it.

  8. “if there hadn’t been a suicide, there wouldn’t have been a prosecution. To pretend otherwise is disingenuous.”

    It’s called prosecutorial discretion. I’m a state prosecutor myself, but the feds exercise to a far greater extent than we do.

    “Besides, the idea that violating the MySpace terms of service is a criminal offense is absurd.”

    If the acts for which she was prosecuted did not constitute a prima facie violation of the criminal statutes under which she was charged, the defense’s motion to dismiss would’ve been granted. It was not. Admittedly, they may now appeal that even from the convictions on the lesser included misdemeanors. I’m genuinely interested in what the Court of Appeals might do with it. But to say “X shouldn’t be a federal crime” is an argument to make to Congress, not to either DOJ or the court.

    “Do you honestly think that the federal government is going to start prosecuting (or SHOULD prosecute) everyone who violates the terms of service on web sites?”

    Neither will they nor should they.

  9. In other words, people who do identical things should be prosecuted (or not prosecuted) randomly, based on … well … what criteria ARE you advocating here?

    I’m not arguing to the DOJ or to a court that violating the TOS shouldn’t be a criminal offense. I’m arguing it here. I’m making a general point. We’re not in court, so my argument isn’t crafted for a judge.

    If you want to advocate that this case was properly prosecuted, you don’t have any rational basis for saying that other (similar) cases shouldn’t also be prosecuted. Otherwise, we don’t have a nation of laws, but of prosecutors who have the power to attack or ignore things as they please. Of course, that’s pretty much the way it is now, to a great extent. Since you work in such a system, maybe you can’t see how bizarrely irrational it is.

  10. Catch Thirty-Three says:

    Cardinal – If you have some hard evidence that Mrs. Drew pointed a gun at Miss Meier’s head and FORCED her to kill herself, or otherwised usurped Miss Meier’s freewill, I’m all ears. Until then, the girl did it to herself…look up what the “sui” means in the word “suicide”.

    It is quite inappropropriate to punish Mrs. Drew in this situation. Yes, she IS a very sick puppy. But she bears no responsibility here, except in the minds of those (such as you) eager to bring about a no-fault existence. Rather than blame Mrs. Drew, I ask where was the professional help for Miss Meier?

    Apparently the concept of freewill is an alien notion to you. That’s a shame.

  11. Catch Thirty-Three,

    I’d agree with you if the girl had been an adult, not a child. However, since that was not the case, Mrs. Drew should be punished. What an evil, vile woman!

  12. Catch Thirty-Thr33 says:

    Elizabeth – Miss Meier wasn’t exactly born the day before. She was 16. At that age, she certainly had freewill. And again, I submit if people knew she was emotionally fragile and depressed, why weren’t her parents getting her the help she needed? (If this were in TX I suppose in that case we could hit her parents with a charge of “Murder by Omission” or “Negligent Homicide” if you are so dead-set against the concept of freewill. It certainly makes more sense than prosecuting Mrs. Drew.)

    Mrs. Drew was indeed an evil, vile woman, to use your phrase (and note that evil and vile are anagrams!). What an adult would get out of tormenting a child for any reason is beyond my ability to comprehend. But should she be criminally prosecuted for the death of Miss Meier? No, unless we have evidence that she was putting the noose around Miss Meier’s neck and kicking the chair out from under her or some such act. Perhaps a civil case, as one earlier poster suggested? I can see that. But a criminal prosecution? Nonsense.

  13. “The girl was emotionally unhinged enough to hang herself of her own freewill, and the tormentor gets the blame??? No personal responsibility exists at all, I guess…”

    Perhaps someone should lock her body up for three years along with Ms. Drew?

  14. Elizabeth says:

    Catch 33- It was a 13-year old girl. There is a reason we protect children – at that age, they usually don’t have the emotional stability/reasoning ability of an adult. And I still stand by my previous post – Lori Drew should be punished.

  15. Anyone interested in the legal aspects of the case might want to read this analysis of the legal aspects of the case:

    http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=20081128005538214

  16. Megan Meier’s parents sent her to a psychiatrist, who prescribed drugs for depression and Attention Deficit Disorder. Megan killed herself shortly before her 14th birthday.

  17. Lori was a jerk, and there isn’t a law against being a jerk. (There are laws that come close, laws that say that getting someone else to commit a crime is in itself a crime, but Lori’s actions and knowledge didn’t meet the legal definitions of those.)

    Someone decided that Lori needed to be punished, though (maybe based on the admittedly large public outcry). So they’re stretching a law about access to computer systems. The premise:

    Lori used a MySpace account impersonating someone else. This is a violation of MySpace’s terms of service, automatically revoking Lori’s permission to use MySpace. Because Lori no longer had permission to use MySpace, she was using unauthorized access to MySpace’s servers…and there is a law forbidding using unauthorized access to someone else’s computers.

    The scary part is that, until now, no one was really using criminal law like this one to protect website license agreements. It’s also scary that Lori’s access automatically turned from authorized to unauthorized without any specific notification from MySpace. Most people have violated these agreements at some time — for example, if you’ve ever used a tool to download a video from YouTube.

    It’s really setting a bizarre and unexpected precedent. Luckily, the precedent only applies in that jurisdiction…but it sucks to be in that jurisdiction right now.