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Trial ending in MySpace suicide case

Final day includes prosecutors urging jurors to convict Lori Drew on federal computer charges--and her daughter's testimony. (From The New York Times)

LOS ANGELES--Federal prosecutors in closing arguments here Monday urged jurors to convict a Midwestern mother on federal computer charges, arguing that her help in creating a fake MySpace account to trick a teenager caused her so much anguish that she took her own life.

By creating the fake account in the guise of a good-looking teenage boy, prosecutors said, the defendant, Lori Drew, hoped to draw in the girl, Megan Meier, 13, learn things she might have been saying about Drew's teenage daughter, Sarah, a former friend, and use that information to embarrass Megan.

After weeks of online courtship with the fictional boy, "Josh Evans"--who was concocted by Drew, her daughter and her 18-year-old employee, prosecutors said--Megan was distressed one afternoon in October 2006 when she received an e-mail message from him that said, "the world would be a better place without you." She killed herself that same afternoon.

"The defendant had a problem," said Mark Krause, an assistant United States attorney, in closing remarks of the weeklong trial. "And that problem's name was Megan Meier."

Drew bragged to friends and business associates for weeks about her involvement in the MySpace page, Krause said, demonstrating that she was in violation of her user agreement with MySpace in a way that constituted criminal charges. "Even after the tragic death of Megan Meier," Krause said, "the defendant couldn't stop talking about her scheme."

Drew's lawyer, H. Dean Steward, countered that there could not be a violation of a MySpace user agreement because "nobody reads them." Steward added that while the prosecution had tried the case in a way that "you'd think this was a homicide case--it's not," that it had failed to prove Drew violated any federal computer fraud statutes.

Drew, who lives in a suburb of St. Louis, is charged with conspiracy and three counts of accessing a computer without authorization via interstate commerce to obtain information to inflict emotional distress.

The final day of the short but emotionally charged trial was capped in part by testimony by Sarah Drew, who repeatedly said she did not remember key moments in the four weeks that the fake account was in operation.

"I don't know," Sarah Drew, 15, snapped, almost before Thomas P. O'Brien, the U.S. attorney here who made the unusual choice to try the case himself, could finish his questions. Lori Drew, who did not choose to testify, stared icily at O'Brien, one of the few times she showed emotion during the trial.

Sarah Drew did say she was sure her mother did not participate in sending messages to Megan. That was in direct opposition to testimony given by others, in particular Ashley Grills, a former employee of Drew who testified last week that most of the messages to Megan were created in concert with Lori and Sarah Drew, including the last hurtful e-mail message.

"I told her not to send that last message," Sarah Drew said of Grills, adding, with sobs, "Megan was my best friend."