Federal prosecutors on Wednesday accused a suburban mother of using MySpace to prey on an insecure teenager who later committed suicide.
Prosecutors say Lori Drew, 49, along with her daughter and an assistant, used the social networking Web site to pretend to be a 16-year-old boy named "Josh," who befriended, flirted with and ultimately rejected Megan Meier, a 13-year-old who lived down the street.
Megan killed herself, prosecutors said, after receiving nasty messages from "Josh."
Drew has been charged with conspiracy and three counts of unauthorized access to protected computers; each charge carries a maximum five-year prison term. She has pleaded not guilty and, if convicted, will likely face a lower sentence under federal guidelines.
Megan's mother, Tina Meier, struggled to hold back tears on the witness stand Wednesday as she described her final conversations with her daughter.
One day in October 2006, Meier said, when she called home to see how Megan was doing, her daughter was crying because "Josh" and two other girls were saying mean things about her online, Meier said.
When Meier arrived home, Megan showed her a message from "Josh." It said the world would be a better place without her in it, Meier testified.
Megan wrote back, "You are the kind of boy a girl would kill herself over," according to prosecutor Thomas O'Brien.
Meier said she told her daughter that she wasn't supposed to be online without parental supervision.
"The last words she said to me were 'You are supposed to be my mom, you are supposed to be on my side,'" Meier said, trying to hold back tears.
Meier said she later ran upstairs and found Megan hanging in the closet with a belt around her neck. She died the next day.
Drew's lawyer, Dean Steward, has said that Drew did not encourage or participate in the hoax and was not aware of the mean messages being sent to Meier.
The trial, in federal court in Los Angeles, will focus not on whether Drew caused Megan to commit suicide, but on a seemingly more mundane issue: whether Drew violated MySpace's terms of service in order to inflict emotional distress on Megan.
The case is believed to be one of the first of its kind to use the statute barring unauthorized access to computers, which has previously been used to combat computer hacking, to address so-called cyberbullying. Drew's lawyers and outside legal experts have argued that the unusual prosecution, if successful, could broaden the scope of what's considered criminal conduct on the Internet.
Drew's assistant, 18-year-old Ashley Grills, previously admitted to writing the message that said the world would be better of without Megan. Grills, who has not been charged, is expected to testify against Drew.
According to prosecutors, for several years, the Meiers and the Drews were friendly. Both families had girls the same age who attended school together, and they had gone on family trips together.
Tina Meier told jurors on Wednesday that her daughter was taking medication for attention deficit disorder and depression, and that she struggled with low self-esteem. Concerned about her daughter's safety, Meier said she had Megan's father reverse the lock on her bedroom.
"I was nervous she would do something," said Meier, adding that Megan previously tried committing suicide.