A Midwestern mother accused of using a fake MySpace account to torment a teenager who later committed suicide thought the plan was a clever and funny way to deal with a girl she suspected was spreading lies about her daughter, according to witnesses Thursday.
Ashley Grills, who was testifying under a grant of immunity, said that Lori Drew was directly involved in creating the bogus MySpace profile of a 16-year-old boy that was used to lure Megan Meier, 13, into an online relationship.
Grills, 20, said she was the one who came up with the idea of the MySpace account, but that Drew agreed and "thought it was funny."
Megan, of Dardenne Prairie, Mo., hanged herself two years ago after receiving an e-mail from the fictitious "Josh Evans" saying "the world would be a better place without you," prosecutors allege.
Drew, 49, is accused of violating federal law by providing false information to MySpace to set up the account, obtaining information about Megan in violation of MySpace rules, and then using the MySpace account to intentionally "inflict emotional distress" on the girl.
The circumstances surrounding Megan's death caused a national uproar when they were revealed last year. Authorities in Missouri launched an investigation but eventually concluded that there was no statute under which Drew could be charged. U.S. Atty. Thomas P. O'Brien indicted Drew in Los Angeles on the computer charges this spring on the theory that because MySpace is based in Beverly Hills, his office had jurisdiction.
Drew's attorney, H. Dean Steward, on Thursday sought to cast Megan as a deeply troubled teen who had already considered suicide and who was taking an antidepressant medication, which warned of suicidal tendencies as a potential side effect.
He read to jurors an e-mail Megan allegedly sent to Drew's daughter, Sarah, less than a year before the suicide: "Every day is a struggle. I can't do anything right. I'm always in trouble."
Grills, a longtime family friend of the Drews' and an employee of Drew's coupon distribution business, testified that she, Drew and Drew's daughter were trying to figure out a way "to expose Megan" for rumors she'd allegedly been spreading about Sarah.
Drew was present when Grills sat at the computer and agreed to the terms of service, though they did not read them, Grills testified. She said Drew also helped formulate messages that were sent to Megan and at one point suggested that they have "Josh" arrange a meeting with Megan at a local mall at which Sarah and her friends would "pop out" and tease Megan.
Grills said that she and Sarah thought they might get in trouble for fabricating the Josh Evans account, but that Drew told them "that it was fine and people do it all the time."
Under cross-examination, Grills said she thought she sent the final e-mail telling Megan that the world would be better off without her from an AOL instant messaging service, not MySpace.
In comments to a reporter outside the courtroom, Steward suggested that the revelation was a blow to the government's claim of jurisdiction.
Grills also testified under cross examination that Megan had been trading insults with several people online the afternoon she killed herself.
In other testimony Thursday, the Drews' hairdresser and a classmate of Drew's daughter said both Lori and Sarah Drew acknowledged to them that they were involved in the hoax on Megan.
The hairdresser, Dawn Chu, said Lori Drew told her she had a "funny story" to tell her before recounting how she and Grills had set up the account to fool Megan. Chu said she told Drew that doing so was wrong, but that she didn't respond.
She said Drew came in for a haircut again on the day of Megan's wake. Chu said she asked Drew why she was going to the wake, given her role in the hoax.
"It's not like I pulled the trigger," she quoted Drew as saying.