The saga of the MySpace suicide case is not yet over. Tina Meier, the mother of Megan Meier, a 13-year-old who hanged herself in response to cruel messages sent as part of a hoax, will press for the maximum charges against Lori Drew, 49, who was convicted by a jury of three misdemeanor counts of computer fraud, according to AP.
jury judge throws the book at Drew, she faces three years in prison and a $300,000 fine.
But Drew's attorney has said he will ask the judge to overturn the verdict. That's an option used only for verdicts a judge finds to be devoid of "legally sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury" to find as they did. So I think the odds of this are pretty bad, especially considering the jury knocked the charges down from felonies.
So was this a good decision? I understand the concerns of the tech industry who worry about a great expansion of the use of the fraud act. For instance, the New York Times raised the idea that we will look back on this case as the inflection point at which the Internet changed from free and anonymous to secure and safe.
The article quotes Andrew M. Grossman of the right-center Heritage Foundation:
If this verdict stands, it means that every site on the Internet gets to define the criminal law. That’s a radical change. What used to be small-stakes contracts become high-stakes criminal prohibitions.
Well, Mr. Grossman is senior legal policy analyst for the Foundation, so he knows full well that by itself the verdict means nothing to anyone but Lori Drew. Only if the verdict is appealed and a federal appeals court (
Eighth Ninth Circuit, in this case), upholds it does the verdict have any application outside of the Western District of Missouri Central District of California.
With Drew now facing three years in prison, would she rack up the lawyer bills to appeal? Considering that she responded to Megan's slight of her daughter by a dogged determination to toy with her emotions and humiliate her (according to the testimony of Ashley Griggs, Drew's employee) one imagines that she would not take her lumps, especially if they were big enough.
Thus, I think Meiers makes a mistake in pressing for the maximum sentence. She would be better served by encouraging the prosecutor to push for a post-conviction agreement for a lesser sentence in exchange for waiver of the right to appeal. Meiers has the satisfaction of a conviction. If this stops now, Megan's parents get on with their lives. If it goes to appeal -- and I certainly would appeal in Drew's position -- the final outcome is uncertain, but what is certain is that the Meiers will spend years reliving the tragic death of their daughter.
As to the ultimate question of whether of a seachange from anonymity to security is afoot, I hope to mull that over in a future post.