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US: 'Cyber-bullying' suicide trial underway in Los Angeles

20 Nov 2008 1:01 PM

LOS ANGELES, Nov 19 AFP - A landmark cyber-bullying trial got underway in the US on Wednesday with US prosecutors accusing a 49-year-old mother of sending taunting emails to a vulnerable teenage girl who later killed herself.

Missouri woman Lori Drew faces federal charges of computer fraud and conspiracy in Los Angeles in connection with the death of 13-year-old Megan Meier, who committed suicide in 2006 at her home in St Louis.

Drew, her daughter and a family friend who are not on trial, posed as a fictitious 16-year-old boy named "Josh Evans" who befriended Meier on social networking site Myspace as part of a plot to seek revenge.

Meier, who Drew suspected of spreading false rumours about her daughter, hanged herself after receiving a message from "Josh" which said the world would be a better place without her, according to court documents.

The case is the first criminal prosecution in US legal history relating to allegations of cyber-bullying.

Federal attorney Thomas O'Brien told a six-man, six-woman jury that Drew targeted Meier even though she knew the teenager was vulnerable.

"The defendant knew Megan Meier was depressed, suicidal and boy-crazy," O'Brien at a US District Court in California. Drew set out "to tease, embarrass, humiliate, make fun of and hurt her," he said.

However Drew's defence attorney Dean Steward stressed in opening remarks his client was not charged with Meier's death.

"This is a computer fraud and abuse case ... not a homicide case," the defence attorney said. "This was a deeply tragic case for everybody -- most of all for Megan Meier."

Steward told jurors his client was not responsible for the email from "Josh" in which Meier was told the world would be a better place without her.

Prosecutors in Missouri declined to bring a case against Drew, who is beingtried in California because on a felony conspiracy charge and three countsof illegally accessing protected computers without authorisation.

The case is being prosecuted in Los Angeles because Fox Interactive, the owner of MySpace, is based in Beverly Hills.

Drew faces illegal access charges on the basis she lied on the fake MySpaceprofile created to taunt Meier, violating the site's terms of service which requires users to provide "truthful and accurate" registration information.

AFP wf =0A