Online Murder Suspect Indicted

A man who allegedly confessed on the Internet to killing his daughter was indicted Friday. Larry Froistad, 29, was granted $100,000 bail and is expected to stay with his parents in Rapid City, N.D.

The San Diego computer programmer, who had lived in North Dakota, will be arraigned this summer. His lawyers say he will plead not guilty to murder.

Froistad's 5-year-old daughter died when his house burned to the ground in 1995. At the time, fire investigators ruled it was an accident. He was arrested in late March, however, after members in an online support group for problem drinkers told authorities he confessed to setting the fire.

Froistad's lawyers say that the alleged confession is meaningless unless there is new evidence showing the fire was not an accident. His family members say he has been fighting alcoholism and depression, and may have been delusional when he apparently confessed.

The Internet messages sent by "Larry" to an online support group called Moderation Management described how he got "wickedly drunk" after his daughter fell asleep, set his house on fire, then climbed out a window to safety while his daughter perished inside.

Froistad's case illustrates the complexities of false intimacy in the online world. His confession and his account of the murder was not prompted by police action, but by his participation in the online support group.

After Froistad posted his note, there was turmoil in the Moderation Management online group. In the electronic dialogue that followed, flame wars broke out among those who wanted to turn the matter over to the authorities, and those who wanted to protect Froistad's anonymity.

Others in the support group believed that Froistad had been under the influence of alcohol when he wrote the damning email, and it was all a fantasy.

Moderation Management is not the first support group to grapple with its own rules. In an offline case, Paul Cox was convicted in 1994 of the 1988 murder of a Larchmont, N.Y., couple. Members of Alcoholics Anonymous said Cox told them he might have killed the couple in an alcohol-induced blackout.

Froistad and his wife, Ann, divorced in 1990. She is remarried and declined to comment on the case.