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Guilty verdict in MySpace suicide case could chill Internet speech

The jury convicted a Missouri mother on three counts, but not conspiracy.

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A high-profile Internet legal case that just concluded here will have a chilling effect on users of social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook if the verdict holds up on appeal, legal experts say.

A Los Angeles jury on Wednesday convicted Lori Drew – the defendant in the so-called "MySpace Suicide Case" – of three counts of illegally accessing computers. But the six-man, six-woman panel could not reach a unanimous verdict on the single count of conspiracy.

The case drew national attention because Ms. Drew had created a phony MySpace profile of a teenage boy who criticized a 13-year-old girl who subsequently hung herself.

"What happened to Megan Meier was a tragedy, not a crime," says Andrew Grossman, senior legal policy analyst in the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at the Heritage Foundation in Washington. "This case should never have been brought. The strongest evidence for the prosecution had nothing or little to do with the charges. This verdict is a loss for civil liberties and leaves all Internet users at risk of prosecution under federal law. It is a prime example of overcriminalization."

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