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Verdict is in for Lori Drew in the 'MySpace Suicide' Case

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Lori Drew, left, and her daughter Sarah, arrive at federal court | AP Photo/Nick Ut

Lori Drew was cleared of felony charges today in Los Angeles. However, shehas been convicted of three misdemeanor counts in the "MySpace suicide" case. Drew had plead not guilty to all counts. She now faces up to three years in prison and a $300,000 fine.

It is believed that Drew's invention of a fraudulant MySpace profile used to romance, torment, and finally dump Megan Meier led to the 13-year old girl's subsequent suicide. According to Wired,

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...on Wednesday, jurors found Drew guilty only of three counts of gaining unauthorized access to MySpace for the purpose of obtaining information on Megan Meier — misdemeanors that potentially carry up to a year in prison, but most likely will result in no time in custody. The jury unanimously rejected the three felony computer hacking charges that alleged the unauthorized access was part of a scheme to intentionally inflict emotional distress on Megan.

Drew's attorney H. Dean Stewart announced at a press conference today that he has filed a motion to dismiss. Once Judge George Wu has ruled on that motion, Stewart will decide whether or not to appeal the conviction. Update: A hearing is scheduled for Dec. 29.

According to Associated Press, the jury may have tipped its hand Tuesday. The jury sent a note to the judge late Tuesday asking, "Can we be hung on one count but unanimous on the others?"

In closing arguments Monday, the prosecution stressed the fatal results of Lori Drew's actions -- the suicide of 13-year old Meghan Meier while the defense attempted to keep the jury focused on the counts themselves.

"Lori Drew decided to humiliate a child," O'Brien said in his summation. "The only way she could harm this pretty little girl was with a computer. She chose to use a computer to hurt a little girl and for four weeks she enjoyed it." The defense said the case is a matter of computer law and accused prosecutors of misleading jurors into thinking it was a murder case.

"If you hadn't heard the indictment read to you, you'd think this was a homicide case," said Dean Steward, a defense attorney. "And it's not a homicide case. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a computer case, and that's what you need to decide."

Emotional reactions to the verdict are all over the internet. Even
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AP writer Greg Risling sounds upset, using phrases like "...only three minor offenses..." and "...a mean-spirited Internet hoax..." and that's only the first paragraph. The legal community is buzzing about the landmark case. Over on the Law Blog, they are arguing the definition of "intention to inflict emotional distress" and expressing concern over the precedent of violation of "Terms of service" or TOS having been successfully convicted. Eric Goldman makes the interesting observation that many of the messages were not even sent on MySpace, but on AOL, and points out that this is "not the last step in the process".

The White Collar Crime Center hopes the verdict will prove that internet harassment is tantamount to harassment in-person, and that now the laws will be made more stringent.

US Attorney Thomas O'Brien, who prosecuted the case has announced that he is pleased with the verdict and that it "sent a message that "if you are going to . . . go after a little girl, this office as well as other U.S. attorney offices will do anything possible to go after you."

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During his press conference, Drew's attorney H. Dean Stewart trash-talked O'Brien and got personal, "He seems to think he's smarter than" the U.S. attorneys in Missouri "who chose not to bring charges against Drew," Steward said. He also stated that O'Brien's decision to bring charges was "to his discredit".

Although she would have preferred that Drew be convicted of a misdemeanor, Megan Meier's mother Tina called the verdicts a victory.

So has Lori Drew learned her lesson? At the press conference today, Stewart stated, "My client was puzzled by the verdict. She feels deep sadness for the fact that Megan took her own life. She doesn't feel vindicated."