Judge Plays Hamlet in MySpace Mom Sentencing Hearing
|Dean Steward and Lori Drew|
Room 10 of the austerely elegant old federal courthouse on Spring Street was fairly filled, Monday, with media and spectators who'd come to hear Judge George Wu pronounce sentence on Lori Drew. Drew is the "MySpace Mom" who, with her young daughter and another teenage girl, created a MySpace account for a fictitious adolescent hunk named Josh Evans. Josh was no idle fantasy brought momentarily to Internet life, however, but a Golem summoned from the spiteful imaginations of its creators and sent forth to lure, captivate and ultimately crush the affections of a deeply troubled 13-year-old. That girl, Megan Meier, would hang herself in October of 2006 immediately after receiving a coarse brush-off message from "Josh."
But on Monday all that seemed as far away as the Missouri cul-de-sac in which the tragedy unfolded. The afternoon was to be all about just how much music Drew would face for the three misdemeanors for which she was convicted last November, by a jury that not accepted the government's dubious claims that Drew had committed acts of conspiracy and intentional harm. (The case was tried in L.A. because MySpace's headquarters are in Beverly Hills.) Even before that verdict, however, Drew's lawyer, Dean Steward, had filed a Rule 29 motion, which asked Judge Wu to dismiss all charges against Drew for lack of evidence and declare her innocent. At the time, this motion had caused a courtroom stir because Wu appeared to be seriously considering it - for five minutes. Then he announced he would study the matter.
Six months later, even after the verdict itself, Wu was still studying. Now his dilemma has evolved into a decision on how to rule on Steward's motion to throw out even the misdemeanors. And if he didn't toss them, he had to decide how to punish Drew. A federal probation officer had recommended a year's probation, while the government, led by co-prosecutor U.S. Attorney Tom O'Brien, wanted her behind bars for somewhere between 33 and 36 months.
During the Drew trial Wu emerged as something of a black-robed Hamlet, unable to make up his mind when confronted with decisions that needed to be made on the spot. On Monday he showed once more his preference for Elsinore over Spring Street, as he spent the afternoon seeking advice from both Drew and co-prosecutor Mark Krause. "Let me ask the prosecution . . ." he'd begin, only to cut off poor Krause almost the moment he opened his mouth in favor of upward departure for Drew's sentence.
By the time Wu interrupted discussion of the probation report by saying, "Let me get through the victims' statements in case we don't finish today," everyone knew there'd be no sentencing Monday. The only people not privy to this fact were the awaiting photogs sitting on the shaded Main Street side of the courthouse. When Megan Meier's separated parents, Ron and Tina, spoke individually, Room 10 was momentarily jolted back to the gravity of what happened when Drew and her girls had unleashed Josh Evans.
The banal villainy of Drew 's actions was brought into focus by the couple's reminder that for five months following Megan's suicide, Drew and her husband Curt had not only gone out of their way to comfort the grieving Meiers by attending Megan's wake and funeral, but had asked them to store the Drews' Christmas presents in their garage and invited them to their own daughter's birthday.
"I truly believe," said Ron Meier tearfully, "that prisons were made for people like Lori Drew."
Throughout the victims' addresses Wu often looked away or glanced at paper work. The subject of the parents' anger, however, studied them from the defense table. Lori Drew's expression was as impassive as a sunfish's; only occasionally did her eyes dart toward the gallery and it was only during those brief moments that she betrayed a look of alarm.
"What if she had just passed notes and not used a computer?" Wu resumed a little later, addressing Krause, who admitted the matter would have probably remained a Missouri affair.
"Computers were not used here to gather information," Wu noted, "but to communicate."
"They used information," Krause said of Drew and the two girls, "to prey upon the feelings and emotions of a 13-year-old. They raised her emotional state."
"The government is acting to defend the honor of MySpace," Wu mused before addressing the petty nature of Drew's three misdemeanors, which involved her ignoring MySpace's terms of service by creating a fictitious account. "The misdemeanors are committed by millions of people every when they lie about their age, their height, income - pretty much everything."
But if anyone thought Wu was finally about to hand down sentence, they were dreaming. Instead, he said, he needed until July 2 - to convene another hearing.
At one point he asked the bewildered Krause, nearly seven months after the Drew trial began, "In the government's view what is the crime here?" When Wu got around to asking Steward the defense's position, Steward sounded a bit caught off guard, though his answer spoke for everyone in court:
"What are we doing?"
After about an hour and a half the show was over and everyone was allowed to turn their phones and Blackberries back on, and words on what had not happened drifted out to the photographers sitting on the Main Street sidewalk. Those words may well have come from another Shakespearean character: "To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day . . ."