When prosecuting attorney Jack Banas announced in early December that he wouldn’t be pressing charges in the Megan Meier case, it seemed like the case was closed. Not necessarily so.
Meier, you might remember, was a 13-year-old girl living in the St. Louis suburbs who committed suicide last year after receiving insulting messages on MySpace from Josh Evans, an online alias shared by a neighbor named Lori Drew; Drew’s daughter, a former friend and classmate of Megan’s; and an 18-year-old named Ashley Grills, who worked at Drew’s ad agency. The case sparked a media frenzy over the emerging threat of cyberbullying and prompted some interesting discussions about Internet crime, free speech and the ethics of monitoring and policing social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook. (Background and analysis here and here.)
Megan’s parents, understandably distraught, hired Banas to press charges against Drew. But Banas couldn’t find a statute on which to base a case. As he acknowledged in a press conference December 3, “There is no way that anybody could know that talking to someone or saying that you’re mean to your friends on the Internet would create a substantial risk. It certainly created a potential risk and, unfortunately for the Meiers, that potential became reality. But under the law we just couldn’t show that.”
Now, however, the US Attorneys office in Los Angeles is considering federal wire fraud and cyber fraud statutes as it considers the case. The LA Times reported today that a federal grand jury has issued subpoenas to MySpace and unnamed witnesses, “exploring the possibility of charging Drew with defrauding the MySpace social networking website by allegedly creating the false account.” The tight-lipped article hangs heavily on anonymous sources, and all official spokespeople have so far declined to comment; other experts quoted in the piece fill in the gaps with commentary about the legal strategy and prospects for pushing it forward. (The NY Times has a copycat report in Thursday’s paper.)
A surprising twist in a story I thought had come to an end.