Page last updated at 18:30 GMT, Tuesday, 18 November 2008

US 'cyber-bullying' case begins

Lori Drew (file image)
Ms Drew has been charged under laws usually used against hackers

Initial jury selection has begun in the trial of a Missouri woman alleged to have used a fake MySpace profile to bully a girl who later killed herself.

Lori Drew, 49, allegedly posed as a boy on the website to befriend Megan Meier, 13, who hanged herself after the "boy" broke off the virtual relationship.

Ms Drew denies charges of conspiracy and accessing protected computers without authorisation.

The trial is being seen as a landmark case concerning internet law.

Megan, a neighbour of Ms Drew in St Louis and a former friend of her daughter, took her own life in October 2006.

The jury is going to end up thinking that Lori Drew is being tried for the death of Megan Meier
Dean Steward
Defence lawyer

It is alleged that she killed herself after receiving several cruel messages from a fictitious 16-year-old boy named Josh Evans, including one saying the world would be better off without her.

Prosecutors say Ms Drew and several others created the boy on MySpace, the social networking website, after Megan Meier fell out with her daughter.

'Tragic death'

Ms Drew is being charged under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act - usually used against computer hackers, as prosecutors were unable to find any existing laws within the state of Missouri under which she could be tried.

MySpace page (file image)
MySpace users create their own profiles online
Each of the four counts against Ms Drew carries a maximum five-year jail term.

She is not being charged over Megan's death itself and District Judge George Wu had considered excluding evidence of the suicide from the trial, to avoid prejudicing the defence case.

But he dismissed the idea after deciding jurors would almost certainly know the details already.

Ms Drew's lawyers have expressed concern that a jury would still confuse the issues and "conclude it's about the tragic death of a young girl".

"The jury is going to end up thinking that Lori Drew is being tried for the death of Megan Meier," said Dean Steward.

The trial has been acknowledged as the first time the federal statute on accessing protected computers has been used in a social networking case.

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