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Conviction reversed in web hoax that led to suicide

A woman who was convicted of computer fraud in an Internet hoax that led to the suicide of 13-year-old girl was tentatively acquitted on Thursday by a federal judge.

world Updated: Jul 03, 2009 10:48 IST

A woman who was convicted of computer fraud in an Internet hoax that led to the suicide of 13-year-old girl was tentatively acquitted on Thursday by a federal judge.

Lori Drew, 50, drew national scorn after it was revealed that she helped create a fictional boy on MySpace to befriend the girl and pump her for information about her on-again-off-again friendship with Drew's daughter.

Megan Meier, who was being treated for depression, hanged herself in 2006 after the fictitious boyfriend dumped her and told the Missouri girl that "the world would be a better place without you."

In November 2008, jurors acquitted Drew of the more serious charges of using a computer to intentionally inflict emotional harm but convicted her on three misdemeanor counts of illegally accessing a protected computer.

Judge George Wu said his decision to reverse the verdict is tentative and will not become final until he issues a written ruling.

Prosecutors had urged the judge to send Drew to federal prison for three years.
But her attorney argued that she should not even have to pay a fine because she had already suffered as a result of the bad publicity surrounding the case.

At a previous hearing, attorney Dean Steward argued that the facts used to support Drew's conviction on illegal access -- that she violated the website's terms of service by creating a false account -- do not constitute a criminal offense and there is no evidence she even knew the rules existed.

"This is conduct done every day by millions and millions of people," Wu said Friday in apparent agreement. "How many times do people get on these 'match' sites and pretty much lie about everything? What is the crime here?"

The trial was held in Los Angeles because MySpace's servers are located in Beverly Hills. Prosecutors in Missouri had declined to bring a case against Drew.