This Massachusetts verdict sets us on a dangerous path where words are equated with deeds.
In a landmark verdict, Michelle Carter was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter after it had been alleged that she influenced her boyfriend, Conrad Roy III, to commit suicide through text messages and phone calls. The case has sent shockwaves across the nation due to the controversial sequence of events that led to Roy’s death. Prosecutors argued that Michelle Carter killed Roy using just words, by aggravating his previous suicidal tendencies.
Carter, then 17, met the 18 year old Conrad Roy whilst on a family vacation in Florida in 2012. The teens, both residents of Massachusetts, only met a few times after they began their relationship, interacting mainly through texts messages and calls.
Over the course of their two year relationship, Roy opened up to Carter about his suicidal thoughts and depressive behavior. Roy had previously attempted suicide before meeting Carter. For most of their relationship, Carter was very supportive of Carter’s difficulties, encouraging him to seek treatment for his depression. However, just two weeks before Roy’s death, Carter’s behavior suddenly changed. She began to encourage Roy to kill himself and even gave him ideas as to how to do so.
In response to Roy’s question of how to kill himself, Carter texted, “Hang yourself, jump off a building, stab yourself. I don’t know. There’s lots of ways.” Roy later researched about Carbon monoxide poisoning before he decided to use a motorized pump to fill his car with the deadly gas and kill himself.
Roy got cold feet a week before his planned suicide but was persuaded by Carter to go ahead with it. Judge Lawrence Moniz of Bristol County Juvenile Court, ruled that while Carter’s texts didn’t directly push Roy to commit suicide, it was Carter’s last call to Roy that influenced to take his own life.
During the period of time Roy was pumping Carbon monoxide into his car, Michelle Carter called him up and told him to “get back into the car” after he expressed his fear of dying.
According to Moniz, “She instructs Mr. Roy to get back into the truck despite knowing all of the feelings he has exchanged with her. All of his ambiguities. All of his fears. His concerns,” Moniz said. “Ms. Carter’s actions, and also her failure to act where she had a self-created duty to Mr. Roy because she had put him into that toxic environment, constituted wanton and reckless conduct.”
Carter’s defense unsuccessfully argued that her antidepressant medication caused her to become intoxicated and hence clouded her judgment during her interactions with Roy. Carter herself was diagnosed for depression, eating disorders and anxiety.
What significantly weakened the defense’s argument was the testimony from Carter’s friend, Olivia Mosolgo, who testified. According to Mosolgo, Carter sent her a text that read, “I was talking on the phone with him when he killed himself … I heard him die.”
Interestingly, the prosecutors alleged that Carter encouraged Roy’s suicide in order to gain attention and sympathy from her friends in school.
The case has stirred up quite a controversy because of the legal ambiguities surrounding it.
Numerous legal experts have raised objections to the involuntary manslaughter charge, emphasizing that there is no law against influencing someone to commit suicide. Another point raised by them is that Carter couldn’t have been charged with involuntary manslaughter if she wasn’t physically present at the scene of the crime.
According to Matthew Segal, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, “This is saying that what she did is killing him, that her words literally killed him, that the murder weapon here was her words. That is a drastic expansion of criminal law in Massachusetts.”
Nancy Gertner, former federal judge and Harvard Law professor, echoed Segal’s opinion, “Will the next case be a Facebook posting in which someone is encouraged to commit a crime. This puts all the things that you say in the mix of criminal responsibility.”