Jury to deliberate in MySpace suicide case

LOS ANGELES, Nov 24 (Reuters) - The suicide of a Missouri teen could have been avoided had she not been tormented online by a mom who lived a few houses away, prosecutors said on Monday, describing the girl’s death as a tragedy.

The jury will begin deliberating on Tuesday in the federal case against Missouri woman Lori Drew, who is accused of posing as a teen boy on the MySpace social networking website to tease and humiliate 13-year-old Megan Meier, who later committed suicide.

Prosecutors told jurors that Drew, her daughter and a teenage employee created the profile in a plan to publicly embarrass Meier and get back at her for saying bad things about Drew’s daughter.

“The tragedy in this case is not just Megan Meier’s suicide,” U.S. Attorney Thomas O’Brien said in his closing arguments to jurors.

“It’s the fact that it was so preventable. If, as a 47-year-old woman Lori Drew was so upset that Megan Meier had called her daughter ugly or a lesbian, she could have gone over and talked to her mom and we wouldn’t be here,” he said.

Drew’s attorney, H. Dean Steward, also described Meier’s death as a tragedy, but he reminded jurors that Drew is not accused of homicide in Meier’s death.

“Please do not add to this tragedy,” he said. “This has been such a woeful, woeful case and there’s been so many tears here. Don’t add to it by going along with the government’s case.”

Drew, 49, is charged with conspiracy and accessing protected computers without authorization to obtain information for the purpose of inflicting emotional distress on Meier.

She faces a maximum of 20 years in federal prison if she is convicted on all of the charges.

The trial began on Wednesday, and jurors have heard the testimony of Drew’s teenage daughter and Ashley Grills, who was an 18-year-old employee of Drew and sent a final message on the day of Meier’s suicide in October 2006 that read in part, “The world would be a better place without you.”

Grills was not charged and testified after reaching a deal with prosecutors.

Drew did not testify in her own defense. But Tina Meier, the dead girl’s mother, testified that Drew knew her daughter took medication to handle her depression.

The case was tried in a federal court in Los Angeles because MySpace, the social networking site that was used to create the false profile of a 16-year-old boy named Josh Evans, is based in the nearby city of Beverly Hills.

The trial is being closely watched by the burgeoning social networking industry.

Steward argued that the computer statute Drew is accused of violating was designed to stop hackers, not MySpace users.

“When you look at the facts that you’ve heard and you listen to the elements of the law it doesn’t fit,” he told jurors. “And I submit to you it’s like trying to take a size 11 foot and fit it into a size 6 shoe.” (Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis: Editing by Dan Whitcomb)