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Video: Charges filed in MySpace hoax

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TODAY contributor
updated 5/16/2008 9:29:15 AM ET 2008-05-16T13:29:15

Lori Drew faces a maximum of 20 years if she is convicted of perpetrating the MySpace hoax that ended with 13-year-old Megan Meier committing suicide. But Megan’s mother, Tina Meier, thinks that’s not nearly enough.

“Twenty years to me is just a small piece of cake,” Meier told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira on Friday. “Lori Drew should truly be given a life sentence.”

Meier’s reaction came a day after federal prosecutors in Los Angeles, where MySpace is headquartered, announced that a grand jury had indicted Drew on one count of conspiracy and three counts of accessing protected computers without authorization to obtain information to inflict emotional distress on Megan Meier. Drew and Meier are neighbors in a suburban St. Louis subdivision.

Meier’s daughter Megan was just short of her 14th birthday when she hanged herself in her closet in October 2006 after being victimized by the hoax on MySpace. Prosecutors allege that Drew, 49, created a fictitious MySpace account for a boy named “Josh Evans” after Megan and Drew’s daughter, who had been friends, had a falling out. The fictitious boy made friends with Megan, who had battled ADD and depression and had entertained thoughts of suicide several years earlier.

When “Josh” suddenly turned on Megan and told her “the world would be better off without you,” she took her own life.

A lack of laws
Ever since her daughter’s death, Tina Meier has been battling to have Drew charged with a crime, but local prosecutors in St. Charles County, where Meier and Drew live, determined that Missouri had no laws that could be applied to the situation. Federal prosecutors in Missouri also declined to indict Drew.

But prosecutors in Los Angeles determined that Meier could be charged there because MySpace’s servers are located there.

“I’m hoping she gets the maximum penalty,” Meier told Vieira. “That’s what she deserves. Lori Drew played a ridiculous, childish game, and that’s exactly what it was. She probably didn’t know the outcome of what exactly happened with Meghan, but when you play games on the Internet — an adult playing with a child, playing with her mind — these are the things that can happen, and she needs to face the consequences.”

Parry Aftab, an attorney and Internet security consultant who is working with Meier on programs to combat cyberbullying, applauded the indictment.

“We need to make sure that Lori Drew faces a jury of her peers, because she’s admitted in police documents she set this up and she did it and why she did it,” Aftab said. “I’m not sure how someone’s going to defend this case, but all of us really need to hear the facts and know that parents can’t do this to other people’s kids.”

The accused denies
Drew’s attorney, Dean Steward, said in a separate interview that his client denies creating the account and sending messages to Megan. He also said he is disappointed that his client was charged in California after Missouri prosecutors declined to press charges.

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“For the U.S. Attorney’s office in Los Angeles to now issue these charges is disappointing, puzzling,” he said.

“Do you feel there is misinformation out there regarding your client?” Vieira asked.

“Absolutely,” Steward replied. “We’re looking forward to presenting the truth, what really happened, to a jury of 12 people in L.A.”

Meier has said repeatedly that Drew has never apologized to her or expressed remorse for what happened.

“The entire Drew family and everybody connected with this case is deeply saddened by what happened,” Steward said. “It’s a terrible, terrible tragedy. Everybody agrees with that. In terms of reaction from my client, that’s something we need to save for a courtroom.”

A trial date will be set when Drew is arraigned in early June.

The ‘Megan Pledge’
Since her daughter’s death, Tina Meier has become a campaigner for stronger laws to protect children from cyberbullying and has established the Megan Meier Foundation to help educate kids about cyberbullying.

She’s worked closely with attorney Parry Aftab, the executive director of StopCyberbullying.org and the founder of wiredsafety.org. Together, they have organized a campaign to get a million children this year to sign the “Megan Pledge” to end cyberbullying. Kids can sign the pledge online at myyearbook.com.

Aftab said that 85 percent of middle-school students surveyed reported being cyberbullied, but only 5 percent of that number told their parents about it.

“MySpace is trying to work on these issues, but it’s a challenge, it really is,” she told Vieira. “When you have adults doing this, what’s a Web site supposed to do?”

Additional reporting from the Associated Press.

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