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Jury selection begins in MySpace hoax trial

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  • NEW: Jury selection in deadly MySpace hoax trial begins
  • Judge will allow evidence of teen's suicide
  • Lori Drew, mother of another teen, accused of MySpace hoax
  • Megan Meier hanged herself after "boy" on MySpace rejected her
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(CNN) -- Jury selection began Tuesday for a Missouri woman accused in the case of a 13-year-old girl who committed suicide after she was the target of a hoax on the Web site MySpace.com.

Megan Meier, 13, hanged herself in her bedroom after being targeted in a MySpace hoax.

Lori Drew, 49, of O'Fallon, Missouri, is accused of fraudulently using MySpace to pose as a teenage boy who feigned romantic interest in the girl, Megan Meier.

Meier committed suicide after the "boy" spurned her, at one point telling her the world would be a better place without her, according to prosecutors. At the time of her death, Meier's family and Drew's family were neighbors.

Drew is charged with one count of conspiracy and three counts of accessing protected computers without authorization to obtain information to inflict emotional distress on Meier, who is identified in court documents as M.T.M.

Opening arguments in the case could begin as soon as Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday, said Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles, California.

Drew was indicted in May. The indictment was returned in Los Angeles, California, because MySpace is based there.

The indictment alleges that Drew, along with others, registered on MySpace as "Josh Evans," and used the account to contact Meier, beginning what the girl thought was an online romance with a 16-year-old boy.

With those actions, prosecutors allege, Drew and the others violated MySpace's "terms of service" that prohibit users from using fraudulent registration information, using accounts to obtain personal information about juvenile members and using MySpace to "harass, abuse or harm other members," federal prosecutors said in a written statement at the time of Drew's indictment.

The two corresponded for about four weeks, and then "Josh" broke off the relationship, authorities said. "Within an hour, M.T.M. had hanged herself in her room. She died the next day."

Drew's attorneys have said in court filings there was no evidence that she had violated MySpace's terms of service.

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Meier's mother, Tina Meier, told CNN in November 2007 that her daughter had self-esteem issues and had struggled with depression since childhood. She said when she began receiving messages from "Josh" telling her she was pretty, "it was amazing."

She said she was worried, however, and thought, as a parent, that it didn't feel right. She contacted the police's cyber crimes department and asked how she could be sure the account was real, and was told there was no way to do that.

When "Josh" broke off the relationship and made the remarks to Meier, "she was looking for me to help calm herself down like I always did and be there for her," Tina Meier said. "And I was upset because I didn't like the language she was using and I was angry she didn't sign off when I told her to. I was aggravated with her. She said to me, 'You're supposed to be my mom, you're supposed to be on my side,' and then took off running upstairs."

Tina Meier found her daughter hanging by a belt shortly afterward.

"It's as if my daughter killed herself with a gun," Meier's father, Ron, said. "And it's as if they loaded the gun for her."

Drew's relatives, contacted last year, refused comment on the case.

"This adult woman allegedly used the Internet to target a young teenage girl, with horrendous ramifications," said Thomas P. O'Brien, U.S. attorney for the Central District of California, in the written statement in May. "Any adult who uses the Internet or a social gathering Web site to bully or harass another person, particularly a young teenage girl, needs to realize that their actions can have serious consequences."

In December 2007, Missouri prosecutors declined to file charges against Drew.

"There is no way that anybody could know that talking to someone or saying that you're mean to your friends on the Internet would create a substantial risk," St. Charles County Prosecutor Jack Banas told reporters. "It certainly created a potential risk and, unfortunately for the Meiers, that potential became reality. But under the law we just couldn't show that."

The indictment does not allege that Drew sent "Josh's" final message to Meier, telling her the world would be a better place without her in it. Instead, it blames that on her co-conspirators, who authorities have previously said included a teenage girl.

The indictment alleges that Drew deleted the "Josh Evans" account after Meier's suicide.

Banas said in December that Drew arranged for the account to be set up in order to find out what Meier was saying about her daughter.

Each count against Drew carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison upon conviction.

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