By Calvin Palmer
A Missouri mother convicted for her role in a MySpace hoax that eventually led to a 13-year-old girl committing suicide was acquitted today by a Los Angeles federal judge.
In his ruling, U.S. District Judge George Wu has acquitted Lori Drew, 50, of misdemeanor counts of accessing computers without authorization. Wu says his ruling will become final when he issues it in writing.
Drew was convicted in a trial, but the judge says that if she is to be found guilty of illegally accessing computers, anyone who has ever violated the social networking site’s terms of service would be guilty of a misdemeanor.
Drew was due to be sentenced in May but Wu had delayed the sentencing until today, saying he wanted to consider the defense motion to dismiss the entire case.
Drew was widely criticized after the 2006 death of eighth-grader Megan Meier, an acquaintance of Drew’s daughter.
Prosecutors said Drew, her daughter and her 18-year-old employee used a fake profile of a teenage boy to flirt with Megan online via Beverly Hills-based MySpace. Megan hanged herself with a belt after getting a message, purportedly from the boy, telling her that “the world would be a better place without you.”
At the May hearing, Wu grilled Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Krause at length about whether the government had prosecuted Drew under the appropriate laws when they asserted that violating MySpace’s terms of service amounted to a crime.
Krause argued that Drew’s acts were criminal because she signed up for the fake account with the intention of harming Megan by humiliating her. Drew knew her acts were illegal and deleted the account shortly after Megan’s death to cover up her crime, he contended.
Defense attorneys argued for probation and vehemently criticized the prosecution, calling its argument “utterly absurd”.
Prosecutors had sought the maximum three-year prison sentence and a $300,000 fine.
[Based on a report by the Los Angeles Times.]