Is urg­ing one to sui­cide tan­ta­mount to killing?

A young woman is on trial for telling her boyfriend to end his life, which he did.

Los Angeles Times - - THE NATION - By Barbara Demick barbara.demick@la­times.com

NEW YORK — Do words kill?

That is the gist of the de­ci­sion fac­ing Mas­sachusetts Judge Lawrence Moniz in a land­mark man­slaugh­ter case against a young woman who urged her 18-year-old boyfriend to com­mit sui­cide.

Michelle Carter was a trou­bled 17-year-old high schooler when she sent her de­pressed boyfriend, Con­rad Roy III, a bar­rage of mes­sages belit­tling him for not hav­ing the courage to kill him­self. “You al­ways say you’re go­ing to do it, but you never do,” she wrote. Fi­nally he did. In July 2014, fol­low­ing her ad­vice to “just park your car and sit there and it will take, like, 20 min­utes,” Roy pumped car­bon monox­ide into the cab of his pickup truck in the park­ing lot of a Kmart. At one point, when he got out of the truck scared and al­ready dizzy from in­hal­ing the fumes, Carter or­dered him to go back in.

The judge be­gan his de­lib­er­a­tions on Wed­nes­day and has said he would an­nounce a de­ci­sion Fri­day at 11 a.m. Carter faces up to 20 years in prison if con­victed of in­vol­un­tary man­slaugh­ter.

It was an un­usual trial, last­ing a week, as Carter had waived her right to a jury.

There is lit­tle dis­pute about the ev­i­dence in the case. The com­mu­ni­ca­tions were pre­served in the form of thou­sands of pages of screen­shots of text mes­sages that laid bare, typos and all, the raw emo­tions of the young cou­ple. Both had a his­tory of psy­chi­atric ill­ness. Roy had at­tempted sui­cide four times pre­vi­ously, and Carter had a his­tory of anorexia and cut­ting her­self.

They met in 2012, and although they lived about an hour apart, their re­la­tion­ship took place mainly by text mes­sages. They dis­cussed the pos­si­bil­ity of dy­ing to­gether in a “Romeo and Juliet” pact.

Carter sent Roy her re­search on meth­ods of com­mit­ting sui­cide, in­clud­ing one in which he would rig a gen­er­a­tor to the car to kill him­self with car­bon monox­ide. When he couldn’t find the right gen­er­a­tor, she of­fered other sug­ges­tions: “Hang your­self, jump off a build­ing, stab your­self idk there’s a lot of ways.”

Carter, now 20, did not take the stand. In­stead, the de­fense re­lied heav­ily on the tes­ti­mony of a controversial psy­chi­a­trist, Peter Breg­gin, a critic of the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­dus­try. He tes­ti­fied that Carter was “in­vol­un­tar­ily in­tox­i­cated” and “en­meshed in delu­sion” by an an­tide­pres­sant med­i­ca­tion, Celexa, that she started tak­ing a few months be­fore Roy’s death, and had con­vinced her­self that Roy would be bet­ter off dead.

Pros­e­cu­tors por­trayed Carter as ma­nip­u­la­tive and at­ten­tion-hun­gry and said she thought Roy’s sui­cide would cast her in the role of griev­ing girl­friend and en­hance her so­cial sta­tus.

Although tes­ti­mony about the se­cret life of teenagers made for com­pelling lis­ten­ing, the un­der­ly­ing le­gal is­sues have im­pli­ca­tions for fu­ture cases about free speech and as­sisted sui­cide.

Mas­sachusetts has no law against as­sisted sui­cide, and the pros­e­cu­tion ap­peared to go be­yond the scope of the ex­ist­ing law, said Sharon Beck­man, a law pro­fes­sor at Bos­ton Col­lege:

“The law says that a per­son is re­spon­si­ble for their own sui­cide. That ... ap­plies no mat­ter what the other per­son said or whether they handed them the weapon.”

Faith Nini­vaggi Pool Photo

MICHELLE CARTER, with her at­tor­ney, waived her right to a jury, so a judge will de­cide her fate.

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