Tina Meier holds two pictures of her
daughter, Megan, who committed
suicide in October 2006.

Suicide Can’t Be Mentioned in MySpace Suicide Trial

November 11, 2008 06:03 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Prosecutors in the case against cyberbully Lori Drew will likely be forbidden to reference the suicide of Drew’s 13-year-old victim during the trial.

Judge Excludes Mention of Suicide

U.S. District Judge George H. Wu said Monday that he will likely prohibit prosecutors from telling jurors that 13-year-old Megan Meier killed herself after being cyberbullied by Lori Drew, the mother of a teenage rival. “I don't necessarily think the suicide is relevant to the crime charged,” said Wu, referring to the charge of accessing computers without authorization against Drew.

Drew harassed Meier through social networking Web site MySpace, creating an online identity of a 16-year-old boy, forming a relationship with Meier, and then sending her cruel messages. The clinically-depressed Meier became distraught and hanged herself on Oct. 15, 2006.

Missouri prosecutors could not find a law under which to charge Drew, as there were no laws at the time outlawing online harassment that doesn’t present a “credible threat.” Federal prosecutors stepped in and charged Drew for violating MySpace’s terms of service, a violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

The act, typically used to prosecute online hackers, had never been used to prosecute a person for creating a fake identity on a social networking site. Many criticized the prosecutors’ decision, saying that it criminalizes common online activities and would set a “scary” legal precedent.

The trial is scheduled to begin Nov. 18 with jury selection; if Wu does decide to exclude mention of the suicide and the prosecution doesn’t win an appeal, the case may be dropped. “Without the suicide, they don't have a case,” said Drew’s defense attorney H. Dean Steward to Bloomberg.

Opinion & Analysis: Is Wu making the correct decision?

Kansas City Star columnist Yael T. Abouhalkah is highly critical of Wu’s decision. “The suicide is the only reason this case should move forward. If it's not mentioned or deemed irrelevant, then the case should not proceed,” he writes. “The judge said mentioning the suicide would prejudice the jury. No, it would give the jury the facts about the consequences of what Drew did.”

Wendy Davis of the Daily Online Examiner believes that the case never should have been brought. She agrees with Wu that, based on what Drew is being charged with, Meier’s suicide should be mentioned in court.

“If the fraud charge here is based on Drew's actions at the time she allegedly created the account, then what happened later is irrelevant,” she writes. “Some reports have suggested that the prosecution will be forced to withdraw its case if it can't tell the jury about the suicide. If so, that would be the right outcome to this entire sad situation.”

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