The defense in the MySpace hoax trial rested Monday without calling a Missouri mother to testify on her own behalf and instead relied on her tearful daughter to direct blame elsewhere for an Internet ruse that allegedly led to a teenage girl's suicide.
The case, which will be delivered to the jury Tuesday morning, arrived at closing arguments with U.S. District Court Judge George Wu yet to rule on a defense motion for dismissal on grounds that Lori Drew, 49, could not be held responsible for violating the service rules of the MySpace social networking site because there is no proof she ever read them. In comments to lawyers, the judge cited a rule under which he may wait until after a verdict to rule on the motion.
"In order to violate a terms of service intentionally, a person must have actual knowledge of the exact term and then make it her conscious object to violate it," defense attorney Dean Steward wrote in documents filed during the weekend after making his motion last week.
Drew has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy and accessing computers without authorization.
Prosecutors say that in 2006 Drew orchestrated an effort by her daughter, Sarah, and a business assistant in which the profile of a fictional boy called Josh Evans was created on MySpace to contact neighbor Megan Meier, 13, and learn if she was spreading rumors about Sarah.
Megan, who had been treated for attention deficit disorder and depression, hanged herself after receiving a message saying the world would be a better place without her.
In the final day of testimony, Sarah portrayed the plan to lure Megan into a romance with the imaginary boy as something that was discussed at the dinner table at home.
But Sarah, who repeatedly answered, "I don't know" and "I don't remember" during cross-examination, insisted that her mother never actually sat down and typed a message from the invented boy to Megan.
Sarah repeatedly brought up Ashley Grills, her mother's business assistant, and portrayed her as the "mean" person who taunted Megan.
At one point she said that she, her mother, her father and Grills sat at the table in her kitchen discussing a possible plan to lure Megan to a shopping mall and confront her with printouts of her conversations with the fictional boy, revealing it was all a hoax.
"It was dinner table conversation," she said under questioning by the prosecutor. "But we thought it wasn't going to happen, so we didn't do it."
She said, however, she did print out at least one of the conversations, which she still has in a file folder in her home.
Sarah said that sometimes her mother would stand behind Grills as Grills wrote messages, but she said her mother never told Grills what to write, nor did she ever type on the keyboard.
On the day when Megan would hang herself in a closet, Sarah said, she knew Grills was sending a message telling Megan that the world would be better without her.
"I told her not to send that last message," Sarah sobbed.
"Why didn't you want her to send it?" asked U.S. Attorney Thomas O'Brien.
"Because she was my best friend," the witness said.
"Did you think it was mean?" asked the prosecutor.
"Yes," said the witness.
The young witness also testified she knew Megan had been taking medicine for depression and that she had been seeing a psychiatrist. Sarah also said she believed that her mother thought the final message to Megan was "mean," but that her mother was not in the house when it was written and sent. Sarah said her mother arrived home a half-hour later.
Within minutes, she said, they received word that an ambulance was outside Megan's home and she, Grills and Lori Drew raced down the street to see what was happening, but all they learned was that something had happened to Megan.
When her father came home, she said, he instructed Grills to delete all the Josh Evans messages from the MySpace page.
"But she told my dad it didn't matter because it was still on our hard drive," Sarah said.
Sarah said her mother called another girl who had been involved in the message exchanges, and "she told (her) to watch what she said, that something bad had happened to Megan at the MySpace account."
Grills testified earlier in the trial under promise of immunity. Grills said Drew thought the MySpace account was a funny idea and was present about half of the time when Grills and Sarah sent messages to Megan. She also said she remembered one time when Drew typed a message.
In other testimony Monday, Lori Drew's father, Jerry Shreevs, said that neighborhood anger erupted against the Drew family after Megan's suicide. He said neighbors gathered next door and screamed, "Murderer."