Today saw the cross-examination of Tina Meier, the still-grieving mother of a daughter who committed suicide in 2006 after being the unwitting target in a game of cyber-bullying. Megan Meier was 13 when she hanged herself minutes after being jilted by her MySpace friend Josh Evans. She died not knowing that Josh never existed but was, allegedly, the spiteful creation of Lori Drew, now 49, and Drew’s teenaged daughter Sarah and her friend Ashley Grills. Only Lori, however, faces Federal charges of conspiracy and violation of MySpace’s terms of service.

Tina Meier, whose marriage crumbled under the weight of the tragedy, arrived in Federal District Court wearing a print dress and the memory of a summer tan, her shortish blonde hair barely covering a neck tattoo of a pair of wings attached to Megan’s name. Ms. Meier listened to the questions of Lori Drew’s attorney, Dean Steward, as though they came from the lips of some species of reptile, while Drew stared blankly at her former neighbor.

Tina told the court that her daughter had been treated and medicated for depression since the third grade. Steward seemed particularly interested in the number of mood-stabilizing drugs that Megan’s psychiatrists had prescribed for her. Steward read off the side effects of the Celexa Megan took: “Nausea, dry mouth, vomiting, drowsiness . . . and suicidality.” Steward clearly hoped this last indication would italicize for jurors the risk that Megan’s parents engaged in by her regimen of drugs. It also had court watchers wondering about the extent to which today’s children are medded up. When most of those in Judge George Wu’s court were kids, the only medical corrective that might come their way were a set of braces. Today, it seems, nearly every child is dosed as though he or she is in need of an exorcist. (Megan, meet Regan.)

The court was also reminded (just in case they’d forgotten the movie Carrie) of how cruel young girls can be toward one another. Jurors heard of the email and Instant Message dueling that Megan and her junior high school friends engaged in, and listened, over and over, to the worst epithets that 13-year-olds can hurl against each other: “fat,” “ugly” and “lez.”

Jessica Mulford, who was also 13 at the time of Megan’s suicide, admitted that she herself had piled onto the bandwagon and used the Josh Evans account to attack Megan because, she said, “I was bored.”

Ashley Grills, who was 18 at the time she helped Lori set up the Josh profile, gave an insight into that corrosive tedium that Sarah Palin omitted from her homilies about small-town American values.

“School, the mall and family,” Grills testified under immunity from prosecution, were the dominant themes of the constructed dialogs between “Josh” and Megan, as though they were the only possible points of reference for adolescents in Missouri suburbs.

Lori Drew, it should be remembered, is not on trial for causing Megan’s death. When this last fact is taken into account, one is left, inescapably, wondering why this is a federal case whose three prosecutors are led by none other than the Central District Court’s U.S. Attorney himself, Tom O’Brien. Because, in the final analysis, the crime that Lori Drew is accused of is not murder but a prank gone terribly awry. The government, of course, is emphasizing the endgame of that prank for all it’s worth: O’Brien uttered the word “suicide” three times, along with “killed herself,” within the first 90 seconds of direct examination of one witness. The government is, without a doubt, playing hardball on a handball court.

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