- The Washington Times - Friday, July 3, 2009

LOS ANGELES (AP) | A federal judge Thursday tentatively threw out the convictions of a Missouri mother for her role in a MySpace hoax directed at a 13-year-old neighbor girl who ended up committing suicide.

U.S. District Judge George Wu said he was tentatively acquitting Lori Drew of misdemeanor counts of accessing computers without authorization.

Mrs. Drew was convicted in November, but the judge said 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. That would be unconstitutional, he said.

“You could prosecute pretty much anyone who violated terms of service,” he said. The judge, who had delayed the ruling repeatedly, reminded participants that it is only a tentative ruling until he files it in writing.

Prosecutors sought the maximum three-year prison sentence and a $300,000 fine, but it had been uncertain going into Thursday’s hearing whether Mrs. Drew would be sentenced.

Judge Wu had given a lengthy review to a defense request for dismissal, delaying sentencing from May to go over testimony from two prosecution witnesses.

The judge said he allowed the case to proceed to trial when Mrs. Drew was charged with a felony, but she was convicted only of the misdemeanor and that presented constitutional problems.

Mrs. Drew’s attorney Dean Steward said outside court that the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles should not have brought the charges in a case that originated in Missouri and was rejected by prosecutors there.

“Shame on the U.S. attorney for bringing this case. The St. Louis prosecutors had it right,” Mr. Steward said. “The cynic in me says that [U.S. Attorney] Tom O’Brien wanted to make a name for himself or to keep his job.”

The U.S. attorney’s office did not comment on Judge Wu’s decision, which came after an hour of arguments.

Mr. Steward said the ruling should mark the end of Mrs. Drew’s criminal case. “It’s not the end of the road, it’s the end of the chapter on the criminal side, which is pretty clearly the end,” he said.

The parents of Megan Meier, the teenager who killed herself, were in the courtroom but made no comment.

Much attention has been paid to Mrs. Drew’s case, primarily because it was the nation’s first cyberbullying trial. The trial was held in Los Angeles because the servers of the social-networking site are in the area.

Prosecutors say Mrs. Drew sought to humiliate Megan by helping create a fictitious teen boy on the social-networking site and sending flirtatious messages to the girl in his name. The fake boy then dumped Megan in a message saying the world would be better without her.

She hanged herself a short time later in October 2006 in the St. Louis suburb of Dardenne Prairie.

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