Should Lori Drew be prosecuted?

Remember Megan Meier, the 13 year old girl who killed herself after a 47 year old woman who lived in her neighborhood impersonated a 16 year old boy on the internet for the purposes of developing a relationship with Megan, and then breaking it off in the most emotionally devastating possible way?


Megan Meier died believing that somewhere in this world lived a boy named Josh Evans who hated her. He was 16, owned a pet snake, and she thought he was the cutest boyfriend she ever had.

Tina and Ron Meier with a photo of their daughter Megan, 13, who killed herself last year after an online romance ended.

Josh contacted Megan through her page on MySpace.com, the social networking Web site, said Megan’s mother, Tina Meier. They flirted for weeks, but only online — Josh said his family had no phone. On Oct. 15, 2006, Josh suddenly turned mean. He called Megan names, and later they traded insults for an hour.

The next day, in his final message, said Megan’s father, Ron Meier, Josh wrote, “The world would be a better place without you.”

Sobbing, Megan ran into her bedroom closet. Her mother found her there, hanging from a belt. She was 13.

Six weeks after Megan’s death, her parents learned that Josh Evans never existed. He was an online character created by Lori Drew, then 47, who lived four houses down the street in this rapidly growing community 35 miles northwest of St. Louis.



Apparently, she's now being charged with a federal crime:

After looking into the case, local and state law enforcement authorities could not find any criminal laws that Drew had broken. But last week Thomas P. O'Brien, the U.S. attorney for the Central District of California, brought four federal charges against her: one count of conspiracy and three counts of accessing a computer without authorization via interstate commerce to obtain information to inflict emotional distress. Each count carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. "To my knowledge it is the first case of its kind in the nation," O'Brien said. "But when an adult violates terms on a MySpace account to gain information that creates this type of reaction, it caused this office to take a really hard look."



Contemplating Ms. Drew's actions offers the unsettling feeling of peering, as through a cracked door, into the gaping maw of human depravity. But it seems to me that it isn't a legal crime.

The Victorians had the right idea about what to do with disgraceful but not illegal behavior: force the perpetrators to change their names, move to a distant town, and hope some day to live down their shame. They just had the wrong idea about what constituted suitably disgraceful behavior.

My understanding is that the Drews have already lost their business and probably have to move; I presume that shortly they will also lose their assets to a lawsuit from the Meiers. They will most probably spend the next five or ten years hoping desperately that no one recognizes their faces from the evening news. Bending the laws to prosecute them almost gives them too much dignity.