Michelle Carter

Girl who convinced her boyfriend to kill himself has been handed a jail sentence

Conrad Roy grew up in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts, and worked for his family’s company, Tucker-Roy Marine Towing and Salvage. Roy suffered from social anxiety and depression and had once tried to take his own life by way of overdose.

Despite his demons, he was an honour roll student and talented athlete who played baseball, ran track and rowed crew. After three months of night classes at the Northeast Maritime Institute, he even earned his captain’s license.

But Roy committed suicide on 13 July, 2014, at the age of 18. In a Kmart parking lot, he used a portable water pump and a generator to fill his truck with deadly carbon monoxide fumes. At one point, he saw sense and got out of the vehicle. “Get back in,” came the reply from his girlfriend.

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Now 22, his former girlfriend Michelle Carter has finally been handed a custodial sentence. Having waived her right to a jury one day before the trial commenced, she was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter on 16 June, 2017 by Judge Lawrence Moniz. However, while she pursued her appeal, she remained free.

Prior to this initial ruling, her mother had posted pictures to social media - despite a court ruling that she didn’t - of Carter wearing a prom dress and taking part in a school competition which included a visit to Disney World. After Carter was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, she returned to high school in order to graduate and, bizarrely, was voted “most likely to brighten your day”.

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However, the ruling was upheld yesterday, with Carter handed a jail sentence of two and a half years of which she will have to serve a minimum of 15 months. It was a crushing defeat for her legal team who believed that the ruling of involuntary manslaughter, caused purely with words of encouragement, was unlawful.

"The evidence against the defendant proved that, by her wanton or reckless conduct, she caused the victim's death by suicide," the 33-page ruling states. "Her conviction of involuntary manslaughter as a youthful offender is not legally or constitutionally infirm. The judgment is therefore affirmed."

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The crux of the decision appeared to centre on Roy’s final moments. "And then after she convinced him to get back into the carbon monoxide filled truck,” Justice Scott Kafker wrote in the Supreme Judicial Court ruling, “she did absolutely nothing to help him: she did not call for help or tell him to get out of the truck as she listened to him choke and die."

Carter had persuaded the troubled teenager to kill himself over a series of text messages and phone calls. After he had talked himself down, she told him to get back in the truck filled with toxic gas. "You keep pushing it off and say you’ll do it but u never do,” she messaged him. “It’s always gonna be that way if u don’t take action." Speaking to NBC10 Boston, Roy's grandmother Janice stated: "It feels like there is closure."

However, not everyone is happy. Carter’s defence believes that the ruling, that words equate to involuntary manslaughter, encroaches on civil liberties. "Today's decision stretches the law to assign blame for a tragedy that was not a crime," law firm Fick & Marx said in a statement. "It has very troubling implications, for free speech, due process, and the exercise of prosecutorial discretion, that should concern us all."

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Interestingly, these sentiments were echoed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). "Conrad Roy's suicide is indisputably tragic,” stated Matt Segal, legal director at the ACLU of Massachusetts. “But, by upholding Michelle Carter's conviction, the Supreme Judicial Court has handed prosecutors broad, undefined powers that diminish the speech rights of everyone in Massachusetts.”

Ever fond of New England, Conrad Roy applied to study business at Fitchburg State University. He was offered a position but decided not to go. He had met Carter while in Florida and, despite living less than an hour’s drive away, the pair had only met three or four times.

“I have a lot to offer someone. I’m introverted, nice and caring,” Roy stated in a video addressing his mental health issues. “I’m a nice kid,” he adds, “but it comes to a point where I’m just … too nice.”

It was claimed by Carter’s defence that she too was suffering at the time of Roy’s death - from bulimia and depression. Furthermore, it was argued that his suicide was still his choice rather than hers.

"We can all see from the text messages that Michelle Carter did not force Conrad Roy to kill himself," attorney Daniel Marx told the court in October. However, the messages speak for themselves. One stated: "You can't think about it. You just have to do it. You said you were gonna do it. Like I don't get why you aren't."

The situation undoubtedly creates a legal conundrum. The ruling should only have stuck if it stood up not only to scrutiny but also to universalisation - meaning that the decision would comfortably set a precedent for similar situations to come. Intrinsically, it may therefore not be the best decision. Instrumentally, though, it seems that justice has been done.