A friend of the Missouri woman accused of sending cruel Internet messages to teenage neighbor Megan Meier, who later committed suicide, testified Friday that the defendant told her she had concocted a false online identity “to mess with Megan.”
Prosecutors say Lori Drew, 49; her daughter, 13-year-old Sarah; and her business assistant created a MySpace alias of a teen boy called “Josh Evans” in September 2006 to befriend Megan to find out whether she was spreading rumors about Sarah.
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. Defense attorney Dean Steward has reminded jurors that Drew was not facing charges dealing with the suicide.
Megan, who was being treated for depression and attention deficit disorder, committed suicide after receiving a final message saying the world would be better off if she was dead.
The case is believed to be the nation’s first cyber-bullying trial. Its results could set a legal precedent for dealing with the issue of online harassment.
The defendant’s friend Michelle Mulford, whose daughter Jessica was friends with Sarah, said Drew told her that she had asked Sarah and the assistant, Ashley Grills, to delete the MySpace account after learning Megan had killed herself. The testimony corroborates Grills’ account that Drew told her and Sarah to get rid of the account.
Mulford said Drew told her that she panicked after hearing about the suicide. Mulford said she asked Drew why they had come up with the MySpace account, and Drew replied, “’To mess with Megan.”’
Grills, 20, testified Thursday that Drew knew Megan was suicidal when the messages were sent. She also told jurors she helped Drew set up the fake MySpace profile to lure Megan into an online relationship.
Testifying for the prosecution under a grant of immunity, Grills said she sent the last message from “Josh Evans” to Megan in October 2006 on the day the girl hanged herself.
When she learned of Megan’s death, Grills said Drew told her, “’We could have pushed her overboard because she was suicidal and depressed.”’
Grills, who helped Drew with her coupon magazine business, testified that she previously told Drew they might get in trouble for the scheme but that Drew replied it was fine, “‘and people do it all the time.’”
FBI agent Justin Kempf testified that files had been deleted from Drew’s computer on the day Megan committed suicide, but the content of the files remained unclear.
A MySpace executive also testified Friday that MySpace requires users to agree to service terms that prohibit harassment and inappropriate content.
Jae Sung, a vice president of customer care at MySpace, said the popular site requires users to check a box agreeing to the rules as part of its effort to create an environment where users feel safe.
“We need to create some of these rules to ensure that,” he said.
Sung’s testimony addressed a central aspect of the prosecution case alleging that Drew violated MySpace service terms by harassing Megan and setting up a fake account. Sung said “impostor profiles” such as the “Josh” account in this case are not allowed under MySpace guidelines.
“What happens when they are found?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Krause asked.
“We generally delete those profiles,” Sung said.
Sung said MySpace now has 400 million profiles for users, which makes it difficult to enforce the service rules.
U.S. District Judge George Wu said Friday he was considering a defense request to dismiss the case. The defense argues that Lori Drew cannot be held responsible for violating the MySpace guidelines because she never read them. Wu said he'll issue a ruling Monday.