Murder by Texting

Twenty year old Michelle Carter’s trial began this Tuesday, June 6th in Massachusetts. She is charged with involuntary manslaughter for her involvement in the suicide of her boyfriend, Conrad Roy III. In the summer of 2014, Conrad Roy III committed suicide after a long battle with his mental health. He was found in his truck behind a K-Mart with the windows rolled up. He had run a small combustible engine in the back seat of the truck, poisoning himself with the carbon monoxide emissions.

The case represents a milestone in the Massachusetts courts. Currently, assisting someone to commit suicide is not a crime in the state. However, if Carter is convicted, that will certainly change things. The question is: is telling someone to commit suicide illegal? Can you assist someone in suicide despite being 50 miles away?

In 2014, shortly after the case became public knowledge, prosecutors released a set of text messages from the days leading up to Roy’s death. These messages show Carter urging Roy to “just do it”, saying, “No more pushing [this] off. No more waiting”. The messages are disturbing, to say the least. Multiple times Roy expresses uncertainty and concern, and Carter responds by urging him to commit suicide.

On the night that Roy died, he called Carter out of fear, leaving his vehicle and the carbon monoxide inside. During the 43-minute phone call, she convinced him to get back in the truck. Carter later told a friend that she had been on the phone with Roy when he killed himself. Yet, she did not call the police or notify Roy’s family of the incident.

The prosecution alleges that thousands of text messages spanning a months-long period urged and pressured Roy to commit suicide. The prosecuting attorney, Maryclare Flynn accused Carter of seeking attention and sympathy, as well as playing a “sick game” with her boyfriend’s life.

Roy had a history of mental illness as well as a history of suicidal tendencies. He tried to kill himself in 2012 by overdosing on pain medicine. After the incident, he began taking medication and seeing a therapist. His mother stated that he was no more than a “little depressed”.

The defense alleges that Roy had a long history of mental illness that invariably led to his suicide, with or without Carter’s urging. They paint the case as a suicide, not as a homicide. Carter had encouraged Roy to seek professional help during the course of their relationship, although she was struggling with problems of her own. Roy was found to have searched extensively online about methods of suicide, suggesting that he was quite motivated by himself.

Carter is being tried as a youthful offender, because at the time of the incident she was a minor. She waived her right to a jury trial, so a judge will provide the final decision on her case. She was indicted in 2015 and appealed the charge to the state’s Supreme Court. In the summer of 2016, the court ruled that she could stand trial for the death of Conrad Roy III. If convicted, she faces up to 20 years in prison.

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