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Mixed verdict for online hoax

Lori Drew, right, and her daughter, Sarah, arrive at court Wednesday in Los Angeles. A federal jury could not reach a verdict on the conspiracy charge and rejected others. 

Associated Press

Lori Drew, right, and her daughter, Sarah, arrive at court Wednesday in Los Angeles. A federal jury could not reach a verdict on the conspiracy charge and rejected others. 

LOS ANGELES — A Missouri mother on trial in a landmark cyberbullying case was convicted Wednesday of only three minor offenses for her role in a mean-spirited Internet hoax that apparently drove a 13-year-old girl to suicide.

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The federal jury could not reach a verdict on the main charge against 49-year-old Lori Drew — conspiracy — and rejected three other felony counts of accessing computers without authorization to inflict emotional harm.

Instead, the panel found Drew guilty of three misdemeanor offenses of accessing computers without authorization. Each count is punishable by up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine. Drew could have gotten 20 years if convicted of the four original charges.

U.S. District Judge George Wu declared a mistrial on the conspiracy count. There was no immediate word on whether prosecutors would retry her.

"I don't have any satisfaction in the jury's decision," said Drew's attorney, Dean Steward. "I don't think these charges should have ever been brought."

Tina Meier's daughter, Megan, hanged herself after being bullied on MySpace. Meier said Drew deserves the maximum of three years behind bars.

Prosecutors said Drew and two others created a fictitious 16-year-old boy on MySpace and sent flirtatious messages from him to Megan. The "boy" then dumped her in 2006, saying, "The world would be a better place without you."

Prosecutors said Drew wanted to humiliate Megan for saying mean things about Drew's teenage daughter. They said Drew knew Megan suffered from depression and was emotionally fragile.

U.S. Attorney Thomas O'Brien, chief federal prosecutor in Los Angeles, who pronounced the case the nation's first cyberbullying trial, said the jury's decision sent a worthy message: "If you have children who are on the Internet and you are not watching what they are doing, you better be."

Drew was not directly charged with causing Megan's death. Instead, prosecutors indicted her under the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which in the past has been used in hacking and trademark theft cases.

Among other things, Drew was charged with conspiring to violate the fine print in MySpace's terms-of-service agreement, which prohibits the use of phony names and harassment of other MySpace members.

Mixed verdict for online hoax 11/26/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 26, 2008 8:05pm]

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