New legal precedent may have been set on Friday regarding whether telling someone to kill themselves constitutes a crime. A Massachusetts court has convicted Michelle Carter, who waved her jury rights, of involuntary manslaughter in the 2014 death of her boyfriend Conrad Roy III (then 18). At the time, Carter was 17 years old, and she sent hundreds of chilling text messages that encouraged (and later, demanded for) Roy to kill himself. She sent these messages prior to and during his suicide act, which he achieved by way of carbon monoxide poisoning in his car.
Carter wept while standing to hear the court’s announcement. While no one knew how a judge would rule prior to today, there was no doubt that Carter instructed Roy to commit suicide, and the proceedings included blown-up projections of her texts on courtroom screens. The New York Times reports that Carter had first attempted (via her texts) to talk Roy out of killing himself when he initially expressed a desire. For about a month, she tried to convince him to get help, and he only insisted that he wished to die. And then the tone of the couple’s texts dramatically shifted:
By early July, she began to embrace the idea. “If this is the only way you think you’re gonna be happy, heaven will welcome you with open arms,” she wrote.
Ms. Carter said she would look like a “fool” if Mr. Roy did not kill himself. They talked at length about how he could kill himself with carbon monoxide. “If you emit 3200 ppm of it for five to ten mins you will die within a half hour,” she wrote. In the last days of his life, she told him repeatedly, “You just need to do it.”
CNN reports that Carter continued to pepper Roy with text messages while he sat in his vehicle, on the brink of killing himself. She also sat on the phone with him while he inhaled the gases that suffocated him. After she knew that he’d passed away, Carter did not tell his family that he’d killed himself, nor did she call police. In the end, the case against her was (virtually) airtight.
Although Carter did not physically kill Roy — which was something that her defense attorneys pointed out in their arguments — Bristol County Juvenile Court Judge Lawrence Moniz felt that she was still ultimately responsible. Moniz declared that both Carter’s failure to act and her actions amounted to “reckless conduct.” He also declared that what amounted to a constant and aggressive encouragement (for him to go ahead and take the suicide plunge) during these texts was what “caused the death of Mr. Roy.”
Although Carter is now 20 years old, she was tried as a juvenile due to her age at the time of Roy’s suicide. She’ll return to court for sentencing on August 3.