MySpace Mom Trial: To Be or Not to Be?
Federal District Judge George Wu has shown an easy ability to reference films and TV shows during the trial of Lori Drew. Maybe, then, he's familiar with Laurence Olivier's famous prologue to his film version of Hamlet: "This is the story of a man who could not make up his mind." The line is especially apt for Wu, who's been taking his time ruling on a motion to dismiss the case by Drew's lawyer, Dean Steward, for lack of evidence. Such motions are fairly reflexive: A trial's prosecution rests its case and the defense attorney moves for dismissal, claiming the D.A. or U.S. Attorney hasn't proven his or her case. It happens every day, with the vast majority of motions being waved away by a judge who tells the defense lawyer to get on with presenting his side of the case.
Not Judge Wu. Last Friday Steward made his motion and Wu, to the surprise of many, called a long recess. When court resumed, everyone expected a decision, only to be told by Wu to come back Monday - he needed the weekend to study the matter. Monday - today - arrived, and guess what? The judge still needs more time to think it over. With the defense having rested, and closing arguments having been presented by both sides, Wu will hopefully rule on the dismissal motion before jurors return with a verdict. Who knows, though, perhaps he'll wait until after they decide for him.
Tomorrow deliberations begin on the four counts that Drew faces five years in prison apiece for. Drew, 49, is accused of violating the terms of service for MySpace, by helping to create, in September, 2006, an account for a fictitious character named Josh Evans. The Evans account, complete with a photograph of a teen heartthrob taken from the Web, was used to befriend and later harass 13-year-old Megan Meier, a fragile girl whom Drew's daughter, Sarah, believed was bad-mouthing her at school. (School was in suburban St. Louis, Missouri, but the case was tried in L.A. because MySpace's parent company, Fox Interactive, is headquartered in Beverly Hills.) Megan never learned of the hoax, believing to the end that Josh was real.
On the rainy evening of October 16, 2006, 15-year-old Ashley Grills, who had helped set up the Josh Evans account, had "Josh" dump Megan and ended his communication with an AOL Instant Message reading, "The world would be a better place without you." Shortly after receiving this message, Megan, who'd been treated for depression since the third grade, hanged herself. Listening to the trial testimony, one would think Ashley Grills, who's emerged as the dark force behind Josh, would be the one facing the music, but she's been given immunity so the government can go after the really big fish in this story - Lori Drew. To that end the feds assembled a three-person prosecution team headed by Tom O'Brien the U.S. Attorney for California's Central District. It's rare that U.S. Attorneys try cases themselves, rarer still that they involve themselves in a case that at first (and second) glance seems to belong in civil court. While Megan's suicide is a tragedy that cries out for the shunning and shaming of the participants of the alleged MySpace fraud, it doesn't seem to warrant all this legal firepower.
Tomorrow the jurors will begin to decide for themselves. Then again, perhaps by Tuesday Judge Wu will have made up his mind.!-- >