updated 11/19/2008 11:20:07 AM ET 2008-11-19T16:20:07

Jury selection began Tuesday in the case against a Missouri mother accused of taking part in a MySpace hoax that allegedly led to a 13-year-old girl's suicide.

Questionnaires completed by prospective jurors prompted an attorney representing Lori Drew to question whether his client could receive a fair trial.

Defense attorney Dean Steward said the juror forms indicated that about 80 percent had heard about the case and half had formed "devastating" opinions about Drew.

He said he was particularly concerned about the views of six people.

"These are the ones that drip with the most venom for my client," Steward told U.S. District Judge George Wu. The judge dismissed at least two of those people from the jury pool.

Drew is accused of helping create a false-identity account on the social networking site and harassing her young neighbor, Megan Meier, with cruel messages.

Meier hanged herself in 2006 after allegedly receiving messages saying the world would be better off without her. Steward has said outside court that part of Drew's defense would be that she was not at home when that message was sent.

Steward asked Wu to reconsider his previous ruling that will allow evidence of the suicide in the trial. Wu indicated he would be against it, saying it was apparent most people likely have heard about the case.

Wu has said he would instruct the jurors that the case is about whether Drew violated the terms of service of the MySpace social networking site, not about whether she caused Megan's suicide.

Drew is being prosecuted under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

Prosecutors argue the statute can be used against cyberbullying, but Steward believes there was a simple breach of contract and not a federal crime.

Drew has pleaded not guilty to one count of conspiracy and three counts of accessing computers without authorization. Each count carries a potential sentence of five years in prison.

Drew is accused of helping create a false-identity account on the social networking site then posing as a teenage boy and befriending Megan. Drew's daughter and her 18-year-old assistant are also accused of participating.

Megan's death was investigated by Missouri authorities, but no state charges were filed because no laws appeared to apply to the case. Missouri recently updated its laws against harassment to include cyberbullying.

The case is being prosecuted in Los Angeles because MySpace computer servers are based in the area. MySpace is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

It's the first time the federal statute on accessing protected computers has been used in a social-networking case.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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