Should Meier's Suicide be Allowed as Evidence in Lori Drew's Myspace Case?

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On Wednesday, Lori Drew, the Missouri woman whose "cyber-bullying" led to the suicide of 13-year-old Megan Meier, learned that her motion for a bench trial was denied, and that despite her wishes to the contrary, she'll face a jury when her trial starts on Nov. 18.  It's hard to imagine Drew suffering less under a jury, but as the Wall Street Journal's Law Blog noted when Drew initially motioned for a bench trial, the judge didn't know enough about Myspace to have a sound opinion either way:

[U.S. District Court Judge George Wu] is still confused on a few points, according to [Drew attorney Dean Steward], with whom we spoke yesterday. "My sense," Steward told the Law Blog, "is that Judge Wu still wants to hear some actual testimony regarding the MySpace terms of service and the way MySpace works. Much of the discussion at the hearing focused on whether you have to agree to the terms of service if you're simply visiting the site [but aren't a member]. My sense is that the judge wants someone on the witness stand that can tell him exactly how the technology works."

Drew's lawyers are now asking the court to exclude Meier's death as evidence, but as Jacob Sullum pointed out in May, conspiracy is one of the charges U.S. Attorney Thomas P. O'Brien brought against Drew, which means Meier is fair game. My guess is that the jury will hang Drew out to dry if Meier's death can be submitted as evidence, despite the fact that O'Brien used a bastardized interpretation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act to charge Drew in the first place (and only after prosecutors in Missouri declined to charge Drew, arguing that she didn't break any laws). Drew's legal team has argued that Meier's death has nothing to do with the charges brought against Drew:

The defense has asked the judge to exclude mention of the death because the charges — that Drew violated a federal anti-hacking law by misrepresenting herself on the California-based MySpace site — do not involve Meier's death. The defense says use of it would be prejudicial and play to jurors' emotions.

I'll post an update as soon as Judge Wu decides whether the prosecution can tell the jury about Meier's suicide. In the meantime, read reason's coverage of the case here, here, and here.

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  1. Lori Drew is a cold hearted, immature woman who deserves to be ostracized by polite and impolite socity alike. I would hope and expect that common our humanity would lead us to make the rest of her life a lonely and pathetic one.

    That said, misrepresenting oneself on the tubez is so common as to be laughable. It is not a crime any more than “Babes, I’m just driving the Hyundai ’cause my Mercedes is in the shop” is.

  2. The death should certainly be admitted as evidence. It’s the whole reason Drew is on trial in the first place.

    I view this kind of like reckless driving that results in a death, although reckless driving doesn’t usually involve malice. If a cop pulls you over for driving 90 MPH in a 25 zone, the penalties are far less than if you drive 90MPH in a 25 zone and kill a pedestrian.

    -jcr

  3. Well there is one way Lori Drew could avoid a jury trial.She could take her own life.I’d highly recommend that course of action.

  4. I have little doubt that the sort of misrepresentation and harassment Drew engaged in should be illegal and I’m kind of surprised it isn’t covered under existing harassment laws.

    That said, the actual charges in this case are no good – I don’t think lying about yourself to MySpace should bring criminal charges on its own.

  5. Re: jcr

    While Drew is a despicable character, the charge is a hacking charge. Therefore, mention of death cannot be brought up until the state establishes her motivation and reason for entering the site.

    The state cannot simply ask her why she was cyber bullying, they must go through a line of questions that lead to the death. But, at the same time they run the risk of ask questions beyond the scope of the trial.

  6. If this Lori Drew can be charged with conspiracy for Megan Meier’s death, then one could just as easily prosecute every mean classmate at a high school where some teen kills themselves.

    Has such a prosecution ever occurred?

  7. While Drew is a despicable character, the charge is a hacking charge.

    Yeah, that rather bugs me. It’s rather like going after Al Capone for tax evasion. It seems very odd that there’s no existing statute that covers inducing someone to kill themselves by deception.

    Criminal impersonation, perhaps? If a perp impersonates a doctor, tell the victim that they’re going to die in screaming agony over the next couple of months, but they can check out simply and painlessly by shooting themselves in the head, and the victim does so on the perp’s advice, has the perp committed murder?

    -jcr

  8. Can I sue the Carolina Journal for posting this article, thus making me suicidal?

    Dems Target Private Retirement Accounts
    RALEIGH – Democrats in the U.S. House have been conducting hearings on proposals to confiscate workers’ personal retirement accounts – including 401(k)s and IRAs – and convert them to accounts managed by the Social Security Administration.

    Triggered by the financial crisis the past two months, the hearings reportedly were meant to stem losses incurred by many workers and retirees whose 401(k) and IRA balances have been shrinking rapidly.

    The testimony of Teresa Ghilarducci, professor of economic policy analysis at the New School for Social Research in New York, in hearings Oct. 7 drew the most attention and criticism. Testifying for the House Committee on Education and Labor, Ghilarducci proposed that the government eliminate tax breaks for 401(k) and similar retirement accounts, such as IRAs, and confiscate workers’ retirement plan accounts and convert them to universal Guaranteed Retirement Accounts (GRAs) managed by the Social Security Administration….

  9. The problem I have is that if the state of Missouri does not wish to press charges against one of its citizens in the death of another one of its citizens, what business is it of the feds? Especially federal offices HQ in Los Angeles? (The US Attorney and Judge Wu are for the Central district of California)

    (ok, the answer to that is, from the last link: “Representative Linda S?nchez, a Democrat from California, has introduced the Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act”)

    And of course, despite the fact that the US attorney will likely be replaced in two months, the new one will no doubt continue to make a federal case out of this.

  10. YES !!!!!

    The death of this minor child does in fact needs to be placed within the evidence of this trial.
    If Mrs. Drew had not tried to cover up or hide evidence of her criminal act and to inform her accomplishes of not making any more postings to the fake MySpace account after hearing of Megan’s death. [?????]
    For the knowledge that she “Mrs. Drew” knew of Megan’s problems with A.D.D and severe mental depression – with this and the above cover up should be enough to bring her death into this. For her “Mrs. Drew’s” actions had been the driving cause of Megan to take her life with those last words that she read “This world would be better off without her…”

  11. I view this kind of like reckless driving that results in a death, although reckless driving doesn’t usually involve malice. If a cop pulls you over for driving 90 MPH in a 25 zone, the penalties are far less than if you drive 90MPH in a 25 zone and kill a pedestrian.

    Yes, if you’re also charged with vehicular manslaughter. But if you’re just charged with reckless driving, the death is irrelevant.

  12. It seems very odd that there’s no existing statute that covers inducing someone to kill themselves by deception.

    And here I thought this was a libertarian site. Which rights are violated by such an act?

  13. I don’t think you’ll find any libertarian who supports fraud, let alone fraud that results in death.

    -jcr

  14. Whom did Drew conspire with? This is not clear from any of the posted links. Anyway, I must question the priorities of the prosecutor here, with the large number of mortgage fraud cases in this state.Oh, I forgot – we need to bail out these people to save the economy.

  15. JCR – you won’t find this libertarian supporting fraud that directly causes death, but in my view, the causality link is broken when the young woman made a choice to kill herself.

    Drew’s actions are too attenuated to the suicide.

  16. The vehicular manslaughter analogy is laughably dumb. One can be against fraud and harassment without coming to the conclusion that suicide can somehow be coerced by it. How ridiculous.

  17. TAO,

    I’d say that the question of whether and to what degree Drew is culpable should be for a jury to decide. There’s certainly malice and responsibility on Drew’s part, and her victim was a child.

    -jcr

  18. Mulling this over some more, it seems to me that the right approach might be to prosecute Drew on a negligent homicide theory.

    -jcr

  19. Terms of service? This is like if I wrote someone a note and they killed themselves the Judge would have to get someone to explain how a pen works and if their is a warning on the box?

  20. Drew is despicable. She deserves whatever she gets.

    However, it’s extremely wrong to gin up some charges to get to her.

    Who on this site doesn’t have a fake account somewhere, in violation of some TOS? Hell, its standard operating procedure to me; I don’t want every jerkoff on the net being able to track me down. My mailbox, both real and electronic, would be even fuller of boner pill adverts. Taking a non-crime and making it a crime because Drew did something utterly awful is bad for the justice system. The law is the law, doing some Law & Order style silly putty prosecution to bag some creep is bad for the system and bad for everyone else, even if it ends in a happy result in this particular case.

  21. Who on this site doesn’t have a fake account somewhere, in violation of some TOS?

    Uh…

  22. Whoa, the Federal Reserve Chairman reads Reason?

  23. I think the suicide and the callousness of this woman is clouding the issue. What significant here is the fact that violation of an online TOS, which 99% of us do not read, is now grounds for the Federal Government to throw us in prison. Think about that. Reason could insert a long TOS tomorrow, throw in a clause in the middle about nobody from Florida being allowed to post, force us all to click “I read and understand”, before submitting our comment, and every Reason commenter from the Sunshine state will be subject to arrest. This is pure insanity.

    The woman violated the terms of her MySpace contract. MySpace has the right to terminate her account. There is absolutely no reason for government to be involved.

  24. … please don’t squeeze the Chairman.

  25. There is absolutely no reason for government to be involved.

    But if we let her get away with this, everyone else will start killing each other!

  26. An dems ur jobs!

  27. For the knowledge that she “Mrs. Drew” knew of Megan’s problems with A.D.D and severe mental depression – with this and the above cover up should be enough to bring her death into this. For her “Mrs. Drew’s” actions had been the driving cause of Megan to take her life with those last words that she read “This world would be better off without her…”

    So, if it had been a real boyfriend of Megan’s that broke off the relationship, that would also have been illegal?

    Is it now illegal to end a relationship with a mentally unstable person?

  28. The only person I hate more than this woman is the jerkoff prosecutor who thinks there is a crime here. She is evil, but not a criminal.

  29. If the girl hadn’t killed herself over this she would have killed herself over something else. Life is hard and she couldn’t deal with that.

  30. Is it now illegal to end a relationship with a mentally unstable person?

    Shhhh! Don’t give our trolls more power!

    That is, they’d feel obliged to stay.

  31. If the girl hadn’t killed herself over this she would have killed herself over something else.

    That may be, but the facts at hand are that she killed herself over the loss of the fictitious boy that Drew pretended to be. Her probable death under other circumstances doesn’t excuse Drew’s actions.

    -jcr

  32. Is it now illegal to end a relationship with a mentally unstable person?

    Walking away from a mentally unstable person is a different thing from manipulating them into killing themselves. Lori Drew knew that she was acting maliciously.

    -jcr

  33. So anytime anyone commits suicide, anyone who has teased them or made their life difficult is to be charged as a murderer?

    So anytime someone breaks up with someone and is so despondent that they commit suicide, their former lover / friend can be deemed to have committed murder?

    People get their hearts broken all the time. A few can’t handle it and commit suicide. Charging the person who broke up the relationship with murder is chillingly wrongheaded.

    Or, the short version — being a mean bastard or bitch who says mean stuff is now a felony? Really?

  34. So anytime anyone commits suicide, anyone who has teased them or made their life difficult is to be charged as a murderer?

    No, but we are talking about an adult woman posing as a young teenage boy to fuck with a 13 yo girl.I may not agree with the legal particulars of this case in the abstract but I would most certainly find that if any relative of Megan Meier killed Lori Drew in retaliation it would be perfectly justified.I prefer vendetta to the rule of law but as a sop to all you whiny civilization babies I’ll be quite happy with the State throwing the book at this fucking cunt for whatever they choose to charge her with.

  35. well, spinning up charges to placate the baser emotions of people like SIV and JCR is actually anti-civilization. You might as well have mob rule.

    This is pure politics. Lori Drew is a sorry excuse for a human being. That does not justify basically inventing charges of hacking for violating a ToS.

    Walking away from a mentally unstable person is a different thing from manipulating them into killing themselves. Lori Drew knew that she was acting maliciously.

    Then charge her with the crime you’re talking about. As it is, that’s not what’s happening here.

  36. SIV,

    As it happens, in Texas, “He needed killing” is a valid murder defense. A person charged with murder can call witnesses to show that the deceased was a bad person, and if the jury agrees that the deceased was bad enough to deserve it, the defendant walks.

    The problem with vendetta is that it leaves vulnerable anyone without family to take revenge.

    -jcr

  37. Then charge her with the crime you’re talking about.

    I would if I had jurisdiction. As I mentioned above, I think that at the least, a charge of negligent homicide would apply. For that matter, incitement to murder is a crime, although it would be novel to bring that charge when the person incited was the victim.

    -jcr

  38. JCR – Where do you get that? There is no way that’s even remotely true.

  39. TAO,

    The Texas rules of evidence that allow a murder defendant to introduce character evidence against the deceased were explained to me several yeras ago by a friend who practices law in Texas. He summarized it as arguing that “he needed killing”.

    It’s a justifiable homicide theory, and if you offer it as a defense you of course are relying on the jury to concur. If they don’t agree that he had it coming, you lose.

    -jcr

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  41. Why isn’t Myspace on trial?

  42. I never went to law school so I’m not qualified to comment, not that that will stop me or any other crackpot from commenting, so here goes:

    Seems to me that “cyber-bullying” is in the same dubious category as “hate crime”…an offense based more on thought (is thinking a crime?) and speech (is speech a crime?). As despicable a women as Lori Drew appears to be, where’s the crime, if speech itself has not been criminalized in the Intertubes Era?

  43. JCR–I think what you might have misunderstood about Texas law, and all homicide laws, is that intent matters a great deal. The mindset of the actor is the difference between involuntary manslaughter and first degree homicide and all degrees of homicide in between.

    However, unless the evidence proves that a person had a reasonable belief that self-defense was justified, there is no “he needed killing” exception to homicide laws.

  44. That may be, but the facts at hand are that she killed herself over the loss of the fictitious boy that Drew pretended to be. Her probable death under other circumstances doesn’t excuse Drew’s actions.

    This is nonsense.

    You can’t invent a requirement that I evaluate the mental state of a third party before indulging in a petty meanness.

    If this girl was a danger to herself, she should have been in preventive detention in a mental hospital. The fact that the state of Missouri had not put her in a mental hospital should constitute proof that it was reasonable to not regard her as a danger to herself, and the state should be estopped from arguing that I should have known otherwise.

  45. It’s hard to tell, but I think I am most sickened by the girls death, then by the fact that this lady would go to jail, and only then by her actions.

    Her actions were pretty horrible. I would toss her out if she tried to come into my office. But despite the girl’s suicide, I really don’t think what she did should be illegal though.

    And TOS? That alone should be reason to throw this out. It’s a fucking joke. All that should happen is her ability to use myspace (or contract with its parent company, whatever that is). Jail is ridiculous.

  46. You can’t invent a requirement that I evaluate the mental state of a third party before indulging in a petty meanness.

    In civil law, damages suffered by the defendant are not barred because of the defendant’s unusual fragility/vulnerability. Its called the “eggshell skull” rule, as I recall.

    Frankly, I regard anyone who plays vicious mind games with a teenage girl as courting the foreseeable risk that she will harm or kill herself. Saying “Oh, I just wanted her to suffer, but I didn’t mean for that to happen” strikes me as an inadequate defense.

  47. I’ll bet some of you guys thought I would be less bad than John McCain.
    PSYCHE!
    I think I’ll start by having a statue of me built right over there!

  48. I agree that what she did was horrid. but it really was not a crime. i mena come on. In law a reasonable person of sound mind and body is the standard. to be a crime it would have to be foreseable to a person of reason that the acts would end in death. no sane person can have foreseen that. and the fact that the supposed victim was not of sound mind makes her acts less criminal. yes she is a horrid person, no she did not commit a crime

  49. Look, even if you want to make the harassment a crime (in this case I really don’t think it is, or should be), which I can understand although I think it is misguided, the suicide shouldn’t be part of it, since she didn’t make the girl kill herself.

  50. If Lori Drew had made sexual suggestions to this 13 year old girl online (and are we really sure she didn’t?), she’d be looking at jail time.

    It shouldn’t be a crime to pretend to be someone online, but no adult should be making romantic overtures to a child, no matter who that adult is pretending to be at the time.

  51. If making fun of someone and causing them to do violence to themselves is a crime. Then shouldn’t making fun of someone and causing them to do violence to others be a crime? In which case shouldn’t the kids who made fun of the columbine kids causing them to go nuts be on trial for aiding and abetting? 😛 it’s a slippery slope and opens up a whole host of problems. for instance say you’re mentally unstable. say you even manage to goad someone into making fun of you online or they do it on their own. What’s to stop that person from leaving a note with you for the cause, committing suicide and involving you in the crime.
    They can’t make this decision it’s a moral pandora’s box and I hope the jury realizes it. When you start incriminating people for doing things that “cause” suicide it’ just a stones throw away from incriminating speech and actions that “can or have caused suicide in the past.” It gets better though what’s the end? I know it would probably never reach this level but what about advertising practices? Say budweiser misrepresents miller in a commercial? Might happen might go unnoticed might not even be misrepresenting. Ok say millers profits go down a few percent. They lay some people off. One person is unstable he just lost his job causes him to slide into depression say then his wife leaves him because of his depression then he takes his own life? Who exactly is to blame?

    As sad as this story is and depsite how despicable it is for an adult to act like this (i would probably beat the hell out of this woman if i were the girls mother and throw myself on the mercy of the courts later) It is still incredibly dangerous to start looking at suicides like assisted homicides/suicides. Just because there’s a reason someone commited suicde doesn’t mean there’s a crime.

  52. REX

    [ If making fun of someone and causing them to do violence to themselves is a crime. Then shouldn’t making fun of someone and causing them to do violence to others be a crime? ]
    ………………………………………..

    One most important point with the suicide case is that – Mrs. Drew planed this assault with “malice aforethought”. Mrs. Drew’s knowledge of her victims personal health problems with A.D.D and severe mental depression with prescription medications being taken by Megan was most definitely the driving force with the last words viewed and read as to “This world would be better off without her”.
    This case and all evidence should be presented in court and a just verdict handed down.
    Another is that the life of a minor child with the above mention mental problems has been taken and that Mrs. Drew should be held accountable for not only her criminal actions but that her actions – caused a mental child to commit suicide.

  53. So how strong does a minor’s dosage have to be for them to be considered mentally unsuited for the outside world and irresponsible for their actions?

  54. Kolohe | November 9, 2008, 6:52pm | #

    The problem I have is that if the state of Missouri does not wish to press charges against one of its citizens in the death of another one of its citizens, what business is it of the feds? Especially federal offices HQ in Los Angeles? (The US Attorney and Judge Wu are for the Central district of California)

    Well, it’s a nominally a hacking charge, and the computers that were “hacked” belong to MySpace and were physically located in Los Angeles. The Feds are involved because the interstate commerce clause clearly applies here (the computer servers were in a different state than she was).

    I think the question here really is, does the death actually get introduced into evidence? I’m thinking the correct answer is no, but we’ll see.

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