The former brother-in-law of Jennifer Hudson, the singer and actress, was
convicted on Friday of murdering her mother, her brother and her young nephew.
With a crush of news and entertainment reporters monitoring her every move, Ms.
Hudson, who rose to national fame from one of this city’s toughest
neighborhoods, attended the trial, which ran nearly three weeks, and appeared as
prosecutors’ first witness, saying she had always disliked William Balfour, now
convicted in the case.
“I would tell her over and over again not to marry William,” Ms. Hudson
testified about her sister, Julia, who eventually did.
Calling more than 80 witnesses, prosecutors said Mr. Balfour had shot and killed
members of the Hudson family in their home in the Englewood neighborhood in
October 2008 after growing jealous and possessive of Julia Hudson.
Mr. Balfour’s defense team had characterized the case as largely circumstantial,
suggesting that the police hastily focused on Mr. Balfour in a rush to close a
case that drew national headlines. Mr. Balfour, 31, faces life in prison.
Prosecutors said Mr. Balfour had been to the Hudson family home on the morning
of the shootings, and witnesses said that he had previously been seen with the
gun that was used. But no DNA evidence or fingerprints proved Mr. Balfour’s
involvement, and defense lawyers told jurors that the work of Ms. Hudson’s
brother, Jason — selling drugs, the defense team said — was more likely what led
to the shootings.
The jury, six men and six women, deliberated during parts of three days, and had
indicated not long before they announced their verdict that they were split.
They were sequestered during deliberations in the high-profile case.
The daily machinations of the trial had little to do with Ms. Hudson’s
celebrity, which was, nonetheless, ever-present. Reports on the trial noted her
tears, her bowed head, her fourth-row seat, her departures from the courtroom
and her clothes.
Ms. Hudson drew national attention with appearances on “American Idol” in 2004,
then went on to win an Oscar for her role in “Dreamgirls.” In a way, the trial
was a reminder of how much her life has been altered.
Ms. Hudson, who testified that she began singing at age 7 at a Baptist church
here, no longer lived in her mother’s home in Englewood, a neighborhood troubled
by violence and where she said her sister had worked many jobs, including at a
Burger King and as a school bus driver. Not long before the deaths, Ms. Hudson
told jurors, she had left signed, blank checks for her mother, Darnell Donerson,
to pay for items like the family’s gas bill, had bought her sister a computer
and had given her brother an S.U.V., apparently the same one that the nephew,
Julian King, 7, was later found dead inside.
December 9, 2011
The New York Times
By WILLIAM GLABERSON
One of Connecticut’s most agonizing courtroom dramas came to
an end on Friday as a jury voted to impose the death penalty on the second of
two killers of three family members after an ordeal of violence and sexual
assault that challenged suburban ideals of safety.
Lawyers for the second convicted killer, Joshua Komisarjevsky, 31, had waged an
aggressive fight to avoid a capital sentence since Oct. 13, when he was
convicted of the crimes, which drew national attention in 2007. But the jury in
New Haven unanimously voted for capital punishment on each of the six capital
counts he faced.
Mr. Komisarjevsky’s trial in Superior Court followed the trial of his
co-defendant, Steven J. Hayes, who was sentenced to death last year. The two men
burst into the home of the Petits in Cheshire, Conn., beat and tied up the
father, Dr. William A. Petit Jr., and wreaked havoc for hours before setting the
house on fire with the family’s two girls tied to their beds.
The crime and the long court proceedings, attended by Dr. Petit, the lone
survivor, brought legal reforms, played a central role in the failure of an
effort to repeal the death penalty and seemed to rivet the state until, in
recent months, a kind of mass fatigue with the depressing details of the crime
and its punishment appeared to set in.
“I believe God’s will has been done,” Dr. Petit said to a crowd outside the
courthouse just after the verdict. But, he added, “The pain is there forever.”
One juror, Timothy Anderson, said jurors were sobbing on Friday as they reached
the verdict. Mr. Anderson said he was the last to decide to vote for death, “but
when you look at the whole thing, it’s so horrific.”
The defense lawyers presented a series of misfortunes that they said Mr.
Komisarjevsky had suffered in his life as they worked to change perceptions of
him that had been forged by revulsion at the killing of Jennifer Hawke-Petit,
and her daughters, Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11.
Mr. Hayes was convicted of raping and strangling Ms. Hawke-Petit and killing the
daughters, who died of smoke inhalation. At his separate trial, Mr.
Komisarjevsky was convicted of the killings and a host of other crimes,
including sexually assaulting the 11-year-old and making prurient photographs of
her on his cellphone.
In weeks of testimony, the defense lawyers worked to cast Mr. Komisarjevsky as a
damaged person worthy of life, though one that would certainly be lived behind
The lawyers said that Mr. Komisarjevsky was sexually abused as a child, suffered
mood disorders and head injuries, abused drugs and cut himself with glass,
knives and razors, and that his evangelical Christian adoptive parents denied
him proper care, relying instead on religion.
On Friday night, Mr. Komisarjevsky’s family issued a statement: “From the very
beginning, we have spoken out about the horror of the crime and taken the
position that whatever verdict the jury reached was the right verdict. With
today’s jury decision, our view is the same. The crime was monstrous and beyond
comprehension. There are no excuses.”
The killings dominated the state’s front pages and airwaves for so long that
some in Connecticut said they had grown weary of Mr. Komisarjevsky’s trial..
Colin McEnroe, one of the state’s best-known columnists and commentators, wrote
during the trial that he avoided articles about it because he felt he already
knew what he needed to know about the case.
“It is not possible to have lived in this state since 2007 and not know the
Petit case,” Mr. McEnroe said. “It enters our night dreams and day musings.
There is no vaccine against it.”
The New York Times
By JENNIFER MEDINA
— Michael Jackson, among the most famous performers in pop music history, spent
his final days in a sleep-deprived haze of medication and misery until finally
succumbing to a fatal dose of potent drugs provided by the private physician he
had hired to act as his personal pharmaceutical dispensary, a jury decided on
The physician, Dr. Conrad Murray, was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter
nearly two and a half years after Jackson’s shocking death at age 50. The
verdict came after nearly 50 witnesses, 22 days of testimony and less than two
days of deliberation by a jury of seven men and five women. The trial had
focused primarily on whether Dr. Murray was guilty of abdicating his duty or of
acting with reckless criminal negligence, directly causing his patient’s death.
Dr. Murray, 58, faces up to four years in prison and the loss of his medical
license. He sat stoically as the verdict was read and did not react as he was
led out of the courtroom in handcuffs. Judge Michael Pastor ruled that he should
be held without bail until his sentencing, set for Nov. 29.
Jackson, who had become a star as a child in Gary, Ind., singing with his
siblings in the Jackson 5, grew into one of the best-known performers in the
world. Though increasingly eccentric in his later years, often living on a
secluded California estate he called Neverland, Jackson always had a fervent
core of fans and, despite scandals, his lavish lifestyle and persistent money
woes, always seemed just a comeback away from a return to the top.
Hundreds of fans showed their devotion by gathering outside the downtown
courthouse throughout the trial — many of them sporting Jackson’s signature
single white glove. On Monday, they chanted “Justice, justice” and spent hours
after the verdict dancing to his hits, from “Beat It” to “I Want You Back.” Huge
crowds had also gathered outside the California court where Jackson was tried,
and acquitted, on child molesting charges in 2005.
The singer’s parents, Joe and Katherine Jackson, and siblings La Toya, Jermaine
and Randy were in the courtroom for the verdict. The family left the courthouse
without speaking to the hordes of reporters gathered outside, simply saying they
were “very happy” with the verdict and flashing a thumb.
Dr. Murray, a Houston cardiologist, was paid $150,000 a month to work as
Jackson’s personal physician as he rehearsed in Los Angeles for “This Is It,” a
series of 50 sold-out concerts in London that he needed to pay off hundreds of
millions of dollars in mounting debts.
Testimony showed that Dr. Murray had stayed with Jackson at least six nights a
week and was regularly asked — and sometimes begged — by the insomniac singer to
give him drugs powerful enough to put him to sleep. Jackson, Dr. Murray told the
authorities, was especially eager to be administered propofol, a surgical
anesthetic that put him to sleep when other powerful sedatives could not.
Testimony indicated that propofol, in conjunction with other drugs in the
singer’s system, had played the key role in his death on June 25, 2009.
Prosecutors tried to paint Dr. Murray as a money-hungry physician who would do
things no reputable doctor would do — including improperly and recklessly
administering an anesthetic normally given only in a hospital. The full retinue
of drugs given to Jackson while he was under Dr. Murray’s care was so beyond
normal practice, prosecutors said, that it amounted to a “pharmaceutical
For its part, the defense tried to portray Jackson as a man so desperate to make
his comeback concerts a success that he was willing to take wild chances and
grew terrified that he would not be able to perform to his own exacting
standards without more rest and less stress.
The morning Jackson died, Dr. Murray told investigators during a recording
played in State Superior Court here, the singer told him, “Just make me sleep;
it doesn’t matter what happens.”
When Jackson died, he was more than $400 million in debt, but since his death,
his estate has prospered, generating more than $310 million and paying off most
of his debts.
The estate has struck several lucrative deals, including a movie, video games, a
new recording contract and two productions by Cirque du Soleil.
Shortly after Jackson’s death, Dr. Murray told investigators that the pop star
would routinely plead with him to administer more propofol, calling it his
“milk.” The defense argued that Jackson gave himself the fatal dose of the drug.
The Los Angeles County coroner ruled that Jackson’s death was caused by “acute
propofol intoxication,” in combination with two other drugs in his system.
Two days after Jackson’s death, Dr. Murray told investigators that he had been
using propofol almost nightly for two months to help the singer sleep.
In their closing arguments, prosecutors repeatedly invoked Jackson’s three
children to a jury that included nine parents, saying that the singer wanted to
perform, in part, so that they could see their father on stage. David Walgren,
the deputy district attorney in charge of the case, described the frantic
moments after Dr. Murray realized that Jackson was not responsive and as the pop
star’s children watched him lie lifeless on his bed.
Prosecutors sought to show that Dr. Murray veered significantly from acceptable
medical practice at nearly every turn: by administering the propofol, not having
proper monitoring equipment and failing to call 911 right away, among other
things. They said Dr. Murray had not kept any records of administering propofol
but had taken time to record Jackson’s voice on his iPhone.
He did not tell the paramedics who arrived at Jackson’s home about the propofol,
which prosecutors said showed that he knew he was responsible for the singer’s
death. Just one day before the trial ended, Dr. Murray decided he would not
Steve Cooley, the Los Angeles County district attorney, said that he hoped the
trial would send a message to other “unscrupulous, corrupt” doctors who help
fuel patients’ reliance on powerful drugs.
“In Los Angeles we see many examples of high-profile people losing their lives
because of their addiction to prescribed medication,” Mr. Cooley said. “To the
extent that someone dies as a result of their playing the role of Dr. Feelgood,
they will be held accountable.”
Mr. Cooley said that he doubted that Dr. Murray would serve a full four-year
sentence because of the state’s chronically overcrowded prisons.
In one of the most dramatic moments in the trial, prosecutors played the iPhone
recording Dr. Murray made of Jackson toward the end of his life and the court
heard the singer rambling about his dream of building the world’s largest
“I’m going to do that for them,” Jackson is heard saying in slurred speech.
“That will be remembered more than my performances. My performances will be up
there helping my children and always be my dream. I love them. I love them
because I didn’t have a childhood. I had no childhood. I feel their pain.”
When his voice trailed off, Dr. Murray waited several seconds before asking,
After several more seconds, Jackson answered, “I am asleep.”
November 8, 2010
The New York Times
By WILLIAM GLABERSON
NEW HAVEN — Day after day since Sept. 13, they sat in the jury box. They had
to look at photographs of children who were burned while tied to their beds.
They sat feet from grieving family members.
On Monday, the jurors had their verdict for the defendant, Steven J. Hayes, who
had wreaked havoc at the Petit house in Cheshire, Conn. It had almost been
expected from the start of the home-invasion trial: Death by lethal injection.
As the jurors began to talk publicly about their verdict on Monday night, they
said they were certain of it and unified. They said there had never been a deep
division on the panel and that the three and a half days of deliberation were to
solemnly consider when capital punishment was warranted and then to work through
the complexities of the pages of legal questions they had to answer.
But several of them said in interviews that sitting in the Cheshire
home-invasion case had been a harrowing experience, thinking for weeks about the
two parolees who broke into a suburban home in the middle of the night and
killed a mother and her two daughters, beat and tied up the girls’ father and
committed countless other offenses.
“It was a challenge to me to see if I have the courage and the strength of
character,” said Diane N. Keim, 59, a special-education teacher from Madison.
“Other than what you see in movies, I have not seen children burned.”
Herbert R. Gram, 77, also of Madison, said it was the hard-to-hear facts of the
home invasion by two intruders with disturbing criminal pasts and the horrifying
crime-scene photographs that made the case for capital punishment.
“I’ve seen a lot, and been a lot of places,” Mr. Gram said. “I’ve certainly seen
death before.” Then he paused. “This was not easy. There was nothing easy about
Some jurors mentioned that it was impossible to be in the courtroom day after
day and not wonder, as they looked at Mr. Hayes, how many more people like him
were out there willing to break all the rules and ruin people.
Elizabeth Burbank, 45, an interior designer from New Haven, said she could not
help wondering how safe she and the people she loved truly were. “The idea of
being invaded while you’re asleep, when you’re vulnerable — we can’t help but
worry about it now,” she said.
She used to work in a prison, Ms. Burbank said, and she thought she had a thick
enough skin to handle this case. But, she said, “Nothing can ever prepare you
for this kind of thing.”
The daily inundation in topics most people do not have to think about took a
toll, said Delores A. Carter, a retired health care worker from Hamden. “It was
life changing,” she said. “You see everything in a whole new light after you’ve
been through something like this.”
As the weeks of testimony went on, the toll on the jurors grew. “The weight just
got heavier and heavier,” said Ian Cassell, 35, of New Haven, who was the jury
foreman in the penalty phase of the trial.
By the time they had agreed on the death verdict, “all the jurors were really
emotional,” Mr. Cassell said. It was a verdict based on the law, he said. “No
one is happy. Nothing is better. Nothing is solved.”
The jurors said that reporters had completely misinterpreted the notes they
handed court officials during deliberations on Friday and Saturday that seemed
to suggest some of them were leaning toward accepting a defense argument that
Mr. Hayes should be spared because of a defense claim that he was mentally
impaired at the time of the crime.
They said those notes had been purely hypothetical, as they tried to work
through confusing legal instructions about the many questions they were required
They said the jurors worked agreeably, and that three or four seemed
particularly upset early in the deliberations at the prospect of voting for an
execution. But they said they spent some of Friday and much of Saturday talking
philosophically about when capital punishment was warranted.
Mr. Gram said the conversation veered broadly and included discussion of whether
society had the right to take a life. In the end, he said, all the jurors agreed
that if there was ever a case in which the death penalty was appropriate, the
Cheshire case was it.
The sentiment was unanimous, he said. “It was just so heinous and just so over
the top and depraved. Here is a case where somebody doesn’t deserve to remain on
the face of the earth.”
After the verdict, most of the jurors met with Dr. William A. Petit Jr., who was
beaten by the intruders and tied up while his wife and daughters were tormented
and killed. After some of the jurors asked for the meeting after the verdict
Monday, court officials quietly arranged for it in an out-of-the-way spot in the
court building where the jurors and Petit family members had crossed paths for
Ms. Keim said the meeting was emotional, with jurors hugging members of the
family, and Dr. Petit and members of the extended family thanking the jurors for
the grueling task they had undertaken.
Ms. Keim said that on the worst days of the trial she had often had a sensation
that she would never be able to do what she wanted to do for the Petits and
their daughters, Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11, who were killed after the worst
night of their lives.
In the jury box, Ms. Keim said: “I just wanted to hold the girls. I wanted to
take whatever they experienced before they died and take it away. But it wasn’t
in my power.”
Ms. Keim said she would not forget something one of the girls’ grandmothers had
said in the jurors’ meeting with the family members. The elderly woman told the
jurors, “We’re so sorry we had to put you through this.”
Robert Davey and Elizabeth Maker contributed reporting.
November 8, 2010
The New York Times
By WILLIAM GLABERSON
NEW HAVEN — A jury in Connecticut voted on Monday to impose the death penalty
for a long-time criminal convicted for his role in a home invasion in Cheshire,
Conn., that left a mother and her two daughters dead. The panel had deliberated
just more than three full days.
The jurors stood in the jury box, some looking drawn, as the clerk of the court
read through the long verdict form they had filled out. Some members of the
victims’ family rested their heads on the benches in front of them. The
defendant, Steven J. Hayes, sat motionless at the defense table.
The 2007 crime horrified, fascinated and repelled from the start. It was called
one of the worst in Connecticut history and was compared with the grisly family
murder that was the centerpiece of Truman Capote’s account of a 1959 family
killing in Kansas, “In Cold Blood.”
The details were stark: two habitual criminals invaded the quiet suburban home
of a doctor and his family after spotting them in a shopping center parking lot
the day before. In a night and morning of unimaginable terrors, they beat and
tied up the doctor, forced the mother to withdraw $15,000 from a bank, before
sexually abusing her and her youngest daughter, then strangling the mother and
setting a blaze that killed her two daughters and blackened the home.
The killings brought a searching review of criminal justice and corrections
practices in the state and, particularly during the recent election, came to be
the prism through which the state viewed a debate about the future of the death
Mr. Hayes, a parolee at the time of the 2007 crime, has spent much of his adult
life as a prisoner.
Connecticut provides for execution by lethal injection. But because of appeals,
death penalty lawyers said it would probably be many years before Mr. Hayes
faced execution, if he ever does. A serial killer, Michael Ross, was executed in
Connecticut in 2005 after he decided to forgo further appeals, but he was the
first inmate executed in New England since 1960.
Mr. Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky, who has yet to be tried, entered the home of
the Petit family in a bucolic Cheshire neighborhood on July 23, 2007.
By the time they left with a squeal of rubber from the family’s stolen minivan,
the family’s two daughters, Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11, as well as the mother
of the family, Jennifer Hawke-Petit, 48, were dead in a house that had been set
ablaze with gasoline the intruders had spread.
More than three years later, the trial — which began on Sept. 13 — featured
graphic details of the beating of the father, Dr. William A. Petit Jr., who
survived, as well as descriptions of arson, children tied to their beds, the
forced trip to a bank where the mother vainly tried to placate the intruders by
withdrawing $15,000, and sexual assaults of Ms. Hawke-Petit and the younger of
the Petit girls.
But it also featured a catalog of arguments by the defense to try to defeat a
potential death sentence. The claims included assertions that Mr. Hayes “can’t
live with himself,” and was suicidal and remorseful. The defense lawyers also
brought out testimony portraying Mr. Hayes as a klutz of a criminal, while a
witness called by the defense described Mr. Komisarjevsky as “the devil,” a
comparison the defense lawyers fostered through weeks of testimony.
Mr. Komisarkevsky’s prison journals, read into evidence at the request of Mr.
Hayes’s lawyers, made him a central character of Mr. Hayes’s trial, though he
was never present. The journals presented a chilling view of Mr. Komisarjevsky
as a man who thrived on the excitement of the crime and had hoped to kill
himself and Mr. Hayes by crashing into a police roadblock not far from the
Petit’s blazing home.
In excruciating detail, Mr. Komisarjevsky described beating Dr. Petit and
sexually assaulting 11-year old Michaela. He is expected to be tried next year.
The trial was an emotional journey for the jurors, who were sometimes tearful as
they reviewed photographs of the burned bodies and heard testimony about
matter-of-fact confessions made both by Mr. Hayes and Mr. Komisarjevsky. Each
man said the other had taken the night and morning on an unexpected path toward
violence that had not been planned.
Mr. Hayes claimed Mr. Komisarjevsky busied himself trying to send cell-phone
photographs displaying the child he had abused to his friends during the crime.
Mr. Komisarjevsky said Mr. Hayes’s rape and strangulation of Ms. Hawke-Petit
“brought both of us to a whole different level.”
The story of the crime “will break your hearts,” the chief defense lawyer,
Thomas Ullmann, told the jurors in his opening statement at the start of the
October 5, 2010
The New York Times
By WILLIAM GLABERSON
NEW HAVEN — A former parolee with a long history as a petty criminal was
convicted of capital crimes on Tuesday for his part in a nighttime home invasion
in Cheshire, Conn., three years ago that left a woman and her two daughters
dead. The jury deliberated less than one full day.
The defendant, Steven J. Hayes, who, the testimony showed, described his eager
anticipation of the crime with an “LOL” — laughing out loud — text message hours
before taking part in murder, rape, kidnapping and assault at the home of the
Petit family, was convicted of 16 of 17 crimes in all; he was acquitted of
Six of the crimes he was convicted of make him eligible for the death penalty.
The same jury that sat during the three-week trial must soon determine, in a
penalty phase that could last a month, whether Mr. Hayes is to be sentenced to
death. The penalty phase is to begin on Oct. 18.
“There is some relief, but my family is still gone,” Dr. William A. Petit Jr.,
whose wife and two daughters were killed, said after the verdict. “It doesn’t
bring them back. It doesn’t bring back the home that we had.”
The testimony in Judge Jon C. Blue’s courtroom in State Superior Court here
showed that Mr. Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky, a friend from a Connecticut
halfway house for parolees, entered the house on July 23, 2007; beat and
restrained Dr. Petit, now 53; and wreaked havoc, including the rape and
strangulation of Dr. Petit’s wife, Jennifer Hawke-Petit, 48. The two daughters,
Michaela, 11, and Hayley, 17, died of smoke inhalation in a fire the intruders
were accused of setting.
The news that there was a verdict came to the sixth-floor courtroom with a quiet
knock from the jury room door about 12:25 p.m.
In a case featuring extensive evidence, including confessions from the
defendant, there was never much suspense. Still, as the families of Dr. Petit
and his murdered wife filed into the room, there was tension.
After a few preliminaries, the foreman rose and began answering the court
clerk’s questions by repeatedly saying, “Guilty.” He spoke without a tremor, and
without notes. The answer was the same until he reached the 16th of the 17
counts, this one for arson. “Not guilty,” he said.
The jurors, who may not speak publicly until the penalty phase of the case is
complete, offered no explanation.
Finally, the foreman announced a final “guilty” for the last count, the assault
of Dr. Petit with a baseball bat.
Mr. Hayes, 47, stood between his two lawyers, smaller than both of them. He was
convicted of the murders of all three victims, kidnapping, burglary, the rape of
Ms. Hawke-Petit and all six of the capital felony counts he faced.
The judge sent the jurors home with instructions: “Think of yourselves as jurors
in the middle of a trial.” Then the marshals handcuffed Mr. Hayes, and he was
taken out through a side door.
Dr. Petit fought back tears as he huddled with the chief prosecutor, Michael
Dearington. Then, moments later, he emerged from the courthouse into a chill
drizzle with members of his family and his wife’s family lined up behind him.
He was asked how he had the strength to keep going through the court ordeal.
Speaking calmly, and with his father clutching his arm tightly, he looked around
the crowd and said that each of them would do the same thing “if your family was
destroyed by evil.”
The acquittal on the single arson count seemed to perplex the defense lawyers,
Thomas J. Ullmann and Patrick Culligan.
Little more than two hours after they started deliberating on Monday, jurors
sent a note asking the judge to define what it meant in the law to start a fire,
and whether the pouring of gasoline would be considered starting a fire.
Testimony suggested that Mr. Hayes bought gasoline in plastic containers the
morning of the killings and, in a jailhouse confession to another inmate, he
said he had poured gasoline “on the stairs” in the Petit home.
But it was unclear how much of the gasoline may have been spread by Mr.
Komisarjevsky, who still faces trial. The chief prosecutor told the jury that
the evidence suggested Mr. Hayes had started the fire as the two ran from the
The New York Times
By JENNIFER STEINHAUER
— A federal jury here issued what legal experts said was the country’s first
cyberbullying verdict Wednesday, convicting a Missouri woman of three
misdemeanor charges of computer fraud for her involvement in creating a phony
account on MySpace to trick a teenager, who later committed suicide.
The jury deadlocked on a fourth count of conspiracy against the woman, Lori
Drew, 49, and the judge, George H. Wu of Federal District Court, declared a
mistrial on that charge.
Although it was unclear how severely Ms. Drew would be punished — the jury
reduced the charges to misdemeanors from felonies, and no sentencing date was
set — the conviction was highly significant, computer fraud experts said,
because it was the first time that a federal statute designed to combat computer
crimes was used to prosecute what were essentially abuses of a user agreement on
a social networking site.
Under federal sentencing guidelines, Ms. Drew could face up to three years in
prison and $300,000 in fines, though she has no previous criminal record. Her
lawyer has asked for a new trial.
In a highly unusual move, Thomas P. O’Brien, the United States attorney in Los
Angeles, prosecuted the case himself with two subordinates after law enforcement
officials in Missouri determined Ms. Drew had broken no local laws.
Mr. O’Brien, who asserted jurisdiction on the ground that MySpace is based in
Los Angeles, where its servers are housed, said the verdict sent an
“overwhelming message” to users of the Internet.
“If you are going to attempt to annoy or go after a little girl and you’re going
to use the Internet to do so,” he said, “this office and others across the
country will hold you responsible.”
During the five-day trial, prosecutors portrayed Ms. Drew as working in concert
with her daughter, Sarah, who was then 13, and Ashley Grills, a family friend
and employee of Ms. Drew’s magazine coupon business in Dardenne Prairie, Mo.
Testimony showed that they created a teenage boy, “Josh Evans,” as an identity
on MySpace to communicate with Sarah’s nemesis, Megan Meier, who was 13 and had
a history of depression and suicidal impulses.
After weeks of online courtship with “Josh,” Megan was distressed one afternoon
in October 2006, according to testimony at the trial, when she received an
e-mail message from him that said, “The world would be a better place without
Ms. Grills, who is now 20, testified under an immunity agreement that shortly
after that message was sent, Megan wrote back, “You’re the kind of boy a girl
would kill herself over.” Megan hanged herself that same afternoon in her
Although the jury appeared to reject the government’s contention that Ms. Drew
had intended to harm Megan — a notion underlying the felony charges — the
convictions signaled the 12 members’ belief that she had nonetheless violated
federal laws that prohibit gaining access to a computer without authorization.
Specifically, the jury found Ms. Drew guilty of accessing a computer without
authorization on three occasions, a reference to the fraudulent postings on
MySpace in the name of Josh Evans.
Legal and computer fraud experts said the application of the federal Computer
Fraud and Abuse Act, passed in 1986 and amended several times, appeared to be
expanding with technology and the growth of social networking on the Internet.
More typically, prosecutions under the act have involved people who hack into
“Keep in mind that social networking sites like MySpace did not exist until
recently,” said Nick Akerman, a New York lawyer who has written and lectured
extensively on the act. “This case will be simply another important step in the
expanded use of this statute to protect the public from computer crime.”
Other computer fraud experts said they found the verdict chilling.
“As a result of the prosecutor’s highly aggressive, if not unlawful, legal
theory,” said Matthew L. Levine, a former federal prosecutor who is a defense
lawyer in New York, “it is now a crime to ‘obtain information’ from a Web site
in violation of its terms of service. This cannot be what Congress meant when it
enacted the law, but now you have it.”
Ms. Drew, who showed little emotion during the trial, sat stone-faced as the
clerk read the jury’s verdict and left the courtroom quickly, her face red and
twisted with rage.
Her lawyer, H. Dean Steward, said outside the courthouse that he believed the
trial was grandstanding by Mr. O’Brien in an effort to keep his job, with the
coming change in the White House.
“I don’t have any satisfaction at all,” Mr. Steward said of the verdict.
Judge Wu scheduled a hearing on the request for a new trial for late December.
Since the story surrounding the suicide became public last year, Mr. O’Brien has
discussed with his staff how his feelings as a parent motivated him to bring the
charges against Ms. Drew. He alluded to those feelings on Wednesday at a news
“This was obviously a case that means a lot to me,” he said.
The case has been a collection of anomalies. Judge Wu appeared ambivalent
regarding some key issues at the trial, like whether any testimony about Megan’s
suicide would be allowed (he did allow it) and how to rule on a defense motion
to throw out the charges (he had not ruled as of Wednesday).
Judge Wu was appointed to the federal bench less than two years ago, and it is
difficult to establish his sentencing record. But Mr. Akerman, the computer
fraud expert, said jail time was common even for first-time offenders in
computer fraud cases.
“If I were her,” he said of Ms. Drew, “I would not be celebrating over the
Tina Meier, Megan’s mother, said in a news conference after the verdict that she
hoped Ms. Drew would serve jail time, and that she felt satisfied.
“This day is not any harder than the day when I found Megan,” Ms. Meier said.
“This has never been about vengeance. This is about justice. For me it’s
absolutely worth it every single day sitting in that court hoping there was
SALT LAKE CITY (Reuters) - A Utah man who
confessed to killing his pregnant wife to try and cover up his own lies about
his education and plans to become a doctor was sentenced to six years to life
in prison on Monday.
Mark Hacking, 29, who appeared in court hand-cuffed and wearing a bullet-proof
vest amid tight security, broke down in tears, saying he was "tormented" by the
He pleaded guilty in April to shooting his wife Lori while she slept and then
throwing the body into the garbage.
"She was the greatest thing that ever happened to me, but I killed her and put
her and my unborn child in the garbage. And I can't explain why I did it," he
said in a hearing before the sentence was handed down.
The sentence was the only one that Judge Denise Lindberg could hand down
under state guidelines but she called Hacking "the poster child for
Lindberg said a parole board would determine how long Hacking would serve
but said she would recommend he stay in prison a "very, very long time."
The murder drew international attention when Lori Hacking, 27, was reported
missing July 19 by her husband who told police she had never returned from a
Police quickly focused on Mark Hacking as a suspect.
Shortly before the murder Hacking had told friends and family he had been
accepted to a medical school. Records later showed he had not graduated from
In October police found Lori Hacking's badly decomposed body in a landfill. They
were unable to determine if she was pregnant at the time of her death, a factor
that deterred prosecutors from seeking the death penalty.
Lori's mother, Thelma Soares, told the judge since her daughter's death she had
received correspondence and gifts from concerned people in every state in
America and 63 nations.
"Mark's infamy extends well beyond the borders of Utah," she said. "He killed my
daughter and grandchild and then threw them in the trash with the intent that
they never be found and that I never know what happened to them. Those acts
constitute the very epitome of depraved indifference."
"I can't think of one good reason why Mark should ever walk free again," Soares
told the judge.
Several members of the Hacking family made statements to the judge including
Mark's brother Scott Hacking. "We will continue to love Mark and pray for him,"