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Most jurors favored felony conviction for Lori Drew in cyber-bullying
[December 02, 2008]

Most jurors favored felony conviction for Lori Drew in cyber-bullying

Dec 02, 2008 (St. Louis Post-Dispatch - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
The forewoman of the jury that convicted Lori Drew of misdemeanors for cyber bullying said Monday that a majority of the panel favored a felony conspiracy verdict that could have sent her to prison.

Most jurors believed a felony conviction would send a message that Internet sites should be better regulated for fraud, the forewoman, Valentina Kunasz, said in a telephone interview.

But four jurors would not be convinced, Kunasz said, blocking a felony verdict.
"I would have liked to see this lady go to jail to change the way Internet sites are run," said Kunasz, 25, a former hairdresser who lives in Los Angeles County.

Last week in Los Angeles, the jury convicted Drew, 49, of O'Fallon, Mo., on three misdemeanor charges of illegally accessing a computer. It found her not guilty of more serious felony versions of those charges, and deadlocked on the felony count of conspiracy.

If the convictions hold, Drew likely faces little more than probation. U.S. District Judge George Wu has not yet ruled on motions asking that he use his power to acquit Drew of all charges despite the jury verdict.

Prosecutors said that Drew, her daughter Sarah and an employee of Drew's business, Ashley Grills, created a fake teen heartthrob, "Josh Evans," on the MySpace social network two years ago to flirt with 13-year-old Megan Meier.

The Drew and Meier families were neighbors in Dardenne Prairie, and the daughters had been friends but became rivals.

When "Josh" ended the online relationship, and the messages descended into name-calling, Megan went to her room and hanged herself.

Megan's mother, Tina Meier, said Monday on NBC's "Today" show that she was disappointed Drew had not been found guilty on all charges.

"But that's something I can't dwell on," Meier said. The trial, she said, was still worth it.
"It's about bringing justice to what happened to Megan. And ... to all the kids and people who have to endure this every single day."

Despite public outrage over Megan's death, St. Louis-area prosecutors said they found no laws had been broken. Later, federal prosecutors in Los Angeles, where MySpace's computers are based, obtained indictments under a novel legal theory that Drew had violated anti-hacking laws never before used this way.

Keys issues were whether Drew violated -- or even read -- the MySpace terms and conditions, and whether she intended to hurt Megan by her actions.

Kunasz described herself as among eight jurors who believed that Drew acted maliciously.
"I didn't think she intended to have this girl kill herself," Kunasz said. "But she knew she was suicidal, depressed and taking medicines, and still continued to pursue this act."

It didn't matter much whether Drew typed the messages to Megan, or whether it was Sarah or Grills, Kunasz said. Drew didn't stop it, and that was malicious.

"What is a 47-year-old woman doing egging on her child and employee to do this?" the juror asked.
Four holdouts on the 12-member jury believed that Drew set up the MySpace page to learn what Megan was saying about Drew's daughter, not to harm her, Kunasz said.

"I wish that those four other jurors would have had a different opinion," she said. "But they thought what they thought, and they were entitled to that."

None of the other jurors could be reached for comment.
Kunasz said the jurors rejected three felony charges -- unauthorized access of a computer with the intent of using interstate communication to inflict emotional distress -- because they did not find the messages on specific dates tied to the charges to be particularly malicious.

Instead, they found Drew guilty of misdemeanor versions that required prosecutors to prove only that the computer access was unauthorized.

Kunasz said the jury could not consider the final message from "Josh" to Megan -- "The world would be a better place without you" -- because it was sent via an instant message program outside MySpace and wasn't "interstate" communication. "It would have been helpful if it could have been considered," Kunasz said.

She said the jury did not put much stock in testimony from either Sarah Drew or Grills about their roles in setting up the MySpace page.

Grills told jurors that she set up the account and clicked a box that indicated that she agreed with MySpace's terms of service, which prohibit harassing other users, pretending to be someone else and obtaining information from minors.

Sarah Drew testified that her mother did not hatch the plan and didn't know about it until after it was done. Grills, she said, set up the account.

But during cross-examination, Sarah reversed herself multiple times and contradicted other testimony.

"To be honest, it was hard to believe them," Kunasz said. "We knew (Grills) had immunity, and from (Sarah), her testimony changed from Friday to Monday. You could tell how coached she was."

Drew's lawyer, H. Dean Steward, said Monday that Kunasz's statements seemed inconsistent.
Evidence did not show that Drew, Grills or Drew's daughter read -- or even knew about -- the MySpace rules, he said.

"How can you violate something you haven't read?" Steward asked.
And, he said, while he may agree that the Internet needs to be better policed for fraud, a trial is not the vehicle to do it.

Steward made a motion for a retrial, and also for a judgment of acquittal. Judge Wu set a hearing for Dec. 29.

The U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles declined to comment. -- 314-340-8411 -- 314-340-8337
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