US woman who urged boyfriend to kill himself loses appeal against conviction
Carter has been sentenced to 15 months jail but has remained free while appeals were underway. (AP: Charles Krupa)
A young woman who as a teenager encouraged her boyfriend through dozens of text messages to kill himself is responsible for his suicide, Massachusetts’s highest court ruled as it upheld her involuntary manslaughter conviction.
- Defence lawyers said the result has serious implications for free speech and due process
- Prosecutors want Carter to begin her jail sentence now her appeal has failed
- Carter has been convicted of involuntary manslaughter
The Supreme Judicial Court said in a unanimous decision that Michelle Carter’s actions caused Conrad Roy III to die in a deserted car park nearly five years ago.
“She did absolutely nothing to help him, she did not call for help … as she listened to him … die,” Justice Scott Kafker wrote.
Carter’s lawyers were disappointed in the ruling and will consider appealing to the US Supreme Court, among other legal options.
Carter, now 22, was sentenced to 15 months in jail, but has remained free while pursuing her appeals.
“Today’s decision stretches the law to assign blame for a tragedy that was not a crime,” attorney Daniel Marx, who argued the case before the high court, said.
“It has very troubling implications for free speech, due process and the exercise of prosecutorial discretion that should concern us all.”
The Bristol County District Attorney’s office said it would file a motion in the coming days asking the trial court to impose Carter’s jail sentence now that the state’s high court has ruled.
“This case is a tragedy for all of the people impacted by this case,” District Attorney Thomas Quinn III said.
“However, as the court found in two separate decisions, her conduct was wanton and reckless, and caused the death of Conrad Roy.”
Both teens had a troubled history
Carter and Roy both lived in Massachusetts but met in Florida in 2012 while they were on vacation with their families.
Their relationship consisted mainly of texting and other electronic communications.
Both teens struggled with depression. Carter had also been treated for anorexia, and Mr Roy had made earlier suicide attempts.
Carter was 17 when Mr Roy, 18, took his own life in Fairhaven, a town on Massachusetts’s south coast in July 2014.
Her case raised legal questions about free speech and provided a disturbing look at teenage depression and suicide.
“I thought you wanted to do this. The time is right and you’re ready — just do it babe,” Carter wrote in one message.
“You’re finally going to be happy in heaven. No more pain. It’s okay to be scared and it’s normal. I mean, you’re about to die,” she wrote in another.
The juvenile court judge who convicted Carter in 2017 said she caused Mr Roy’s death by instructing him to carry out the act that led to his death.
The judge said Carter had a duty to call the police or Mr Roy’s family when she knew he was killing himself.
Carter’s lawyer argued she did not force Mr Roy to kill himself. (AP/The Boston Herald: Matt West)
Defence lawyers’ claim of free speech rejected
Carter’s lawyers told the Supreme Judicial Court the only evidence Carter had instructed Mr Roy was a long, rambling text she sent to a friend two months later in which she called Mr Roy’s death her fault.
They also argued she could not be convicted because of her words alone, noting she was not with him when he died and did not provide him with the means to do it.
Her lawyer said during a hearing in October there was no evidence it would have made a difference if she had called for help.
“We can all see from the text messages that Michelle Carter did not force Conrad Roy to kill himself,” Mr Marx said at the time.
But the court rejected Carter’s argument she was being punished for protected free speech.
The justices said Carter preyed upon Mr Roy’s “well-known weaknesses, fears, anxieties and promises” and overcame the “mentally ill, vulnerable” young man’s will to live.
“We are therefore not punishing words alone, as the defendant claims, but reckless or wanton words causing death,” Justice Kafker wrote.