This is what you call not having your witness under control. Wired's Kim Zetter reports that the government's star witness massively undercut the government's case against Lori Drew, who is accused of violating federal antihacking laws by using MySpace to taunt 13-year-old Megan Meiers (pictured).
Meiers committed suicide after receiving cruel messages from a fictional MySpace denizen whom she believed was her friend.
Testifying Thursday, Ashley Grills testified that it was she who sent the final message that led Megan to take her life. Most shockingly, Grills also said that she, not Drew, conceived of setting up the fictional "Josh" as a way to spy on what Megan was saying about Drew's daughter.
Grills said that she, not Drew, opened the account, accepted the click-through license, and created a fake account. The problem is that the government's case is that Drew engaged in computer crimes by intentionally violating MySpace rules.
Grills was in the kitchen with Drew and Sarah, Lori Drew's then-13-year-old daughter, when she proposed creating a fake MySpace account to uncover information that Megan might be saying about Sarah online. Drew applauded the plan, and thought it was funny, but did not herself conceive it, Grills said.
The three of them crowded around Drew's computer as Grills set up the profile. None of the three read MySpace's terms-of-service first. As Ashley began, Lori and Sarah left for soccer practice, urging Grills to finish up in their absence.
The Drews then urged Grills to send a request to Megan as "Josh," asking to be added as a friend to Megan's MySpace account.
Not all of Grills' testimony was bad news for the government. She testified that although she created the persona, Drew insisted on continuing the charade and pushed it to new levels.
"We thought we would get in trouble because it's illegal to make up fake MySpace [accounts]" -- but Drew told them not to worry. "It was fine, and people do it all the time," Grills recalled Drew saying.
At first, the plan was to use the account to see what Megan was saying about her friends, and then to print out the messages and confront Megan's mother with evidence that the girl was being mean. Half way through, the plan changed, when Lori proposed inducing Megan to meet up with the fake boy at a local mall "to, I guess, humiliate Megan," said Grills.
Grills' final message to Megan came after Sarah gave another girl in the neighborhood the password for the Evans account, and that girl sent a message as Josh saying he wanted to terminate his friendship with Megan, Grills testified. Grills said their intent was to turn Megan against the fake boy. "We decided to be mean to her so she would leave him alone … and we could get rid of the page," she said.
Mean enough for Grills to type (although all three formulated the dialogue): "The world would be a better place without you."
Grills testified that Megan responded: "You are the kind of boy a girl would kill herself over" -- a brutal revelation that had a visible impact on some jurors when it surfaced for the first time in the government's opening statement Wednesday.
Defense attorney H. Dean Steward cast some doubt on this last exchange by pointing out that Grills only shared it with prosecutors a week ago, never mentioning it in interviews with the police and grand jury – or "Good Morning America." Grills said she had forgotten it.
"You miraculously remembered this last week?" Steward asked.
"It's something I don't want to remember so I pushed it out of my mind," she answered.