A federal judge on Thursday tentatively dismissed the conviction of a suburban mother accused of driving a love-lorn 13-year-old girl to suicide by tormenting her with a fake MySpace persona.
U.S. District Judge George Wu said during a hearing in a Los Angeles courtroom that prosecutors' application of a federal anti-hacking statute against the Missouri woman, Lori Drew, was selective and the law was unconstitutionally vague.
In a high-profile cyber-bullying case that drew worldwide headlines, Drew was found guilty in November 2008 of three misdemeanor counts of accessing a protected computer without authorization.
She was acquitted of more serious felony charges. The jury deadlocked on a fourth felony conspiracy count.
Drew was accused of creating a fake profile on the MySpace social networking website, owned by News Corp and posing as a teenage boy to tease and humiliate 13-year-old Megan Meier, a neighbor who had quarreled with Drew's daughter.
Megan ultimately committed suicide, hanging herself in her bedroom closet in October 2006.
Drew had faced a sentence ranging from probation to three years behind bars on the three misdemeanor counts. Had the judge upheld the conviction, she had been scheduled to be sentenced at Thursday's hearing.
Instead, the judge said he was tentatively granting the defense motion to throw out the convictions and would render a final, written opinion at some point in the future.
Some legal experts have criticized the prosecution of Drew on the basis of an anti-hacking statute -- the first case of its kind -- saying the law was intended to punish people who break into computers to steal information.
U.S. Attorney Thomas O'Brien, who led the prosecution of the case personally, said afterward he would wait for a final ruling before deciding whether to appeal the dismissal.
O'Brien, who was accused of grandstanding when he brought the case, also left open the possibility of retrying Drew on the conspiracy charge for which the jury failed to reach a verdict.
The prosecution of Lori Drew was a case I felt strongly I had to pursue. I believe it warranted a serious sentence, he told reporters. O'Brien shrugged off accusations by the defense lawyer, H. Dean Howard, that he was prosecuting Drew to further his own career.
Megan's mother, Tina Meier, said she was extremely upset with the decision the judge made.
I wouldn't want to be in Lori Drew's shoes and live her life, she added. I think she is already living a life sentence.
(Writing by Steve Gorman; editing by Dan Whitcomb and Todd Eastham)