Wo­man guilty in text sui­cide trial

Her mes­sages urg­ing boyfriend to end his life are found to be man­slaugh­ter.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Bar­bara Demick bar­bara.demick @la­times.com

A Mas­sachusetts judge finds Michelle Carter en­cour­aged her friend up to the time he killed him­self.

NEW YORK — Putting a mod­ern spin on the def­i­ni­tion of man­slaugh­ter, a Mas­sachusetts judge found Michelle Carter guilty in the death of an 18-year-old friend she had in­structed to kill him­self in a se­ries of text mes­sages and mo­bile-tele­phone con­ver­sa­tions.

The de­ci­sion by Bris­tol Ju­ve­nile Judge Lawrence Moniz in the bench trial could have fu­ture ram­i­fi­ca­tions for crim­i­nal cases in­volv­ing on­line speech and as­sisted sui­cide.

The novel case rested on more than 1,000 Face­book and text mes­sages ex­changed be­tween Carter and her boyfriend, Con­rad Roy III, as well as mes­sages Carter sent friends af­ter­ward ex­plain­ing her role.

Roy was found dead in the cab of his pickup truck in the park­ing lot of a Kmart on July 13, 2014, with a tube from a gen­er­a­tor pump­ing in car­bon monox­ide.

Up to the mo­ment he passed out from the toxic fumes, Carter, then 17, was on the phone with him, she told friends. When he had doubts and climbed out of the truck, she or­dered him back in.

“She can hear him cough­ing and she can hear the loud noise of the mo­tor,” the judge said in his rul­ing Fri­day. Her in­struc­tions to re­turn to the truck con­sti­tuted “wan­ton and reck­less con­duct by Ms. Carter, cre­at­ing a sit­u­a­tion where there is a high de­gree of like­li­hood that sub­stan­tial harm would re­sult to Mr. Roy.”

The no­to­ri­ety of the case turned Carter into a mod­ern-day vil­lain­ess in so­cial me­dia, where peo­ple tweeted threats such as, “I hope you rot in jail for­ever.”

Tears welled up in Carter’s eyes and she ut­tered an au­di­ble sob as the ver­dict was read, but she stood up­right and still, as though she had ac­cepted the even­tu­al­ity of a con­vic­tion.

Now 20, Carter had waived her right to a jury trial, her lawyer rea­son­ing that a judge would as­sess her cul­pa­bil­ity more strictly on the ba­sis of the law.

Sen­tenc­ing is set for Aug. 3. Carter faces up to 20 years in prison on the con­vic­tion for in­vol­un­tary man­slaugh­ter, although such a long sen­tence would seem un­likely. Moniz al­lowed Carter to re­main free on bail un­til her sen­tenc­ing.

In her texts lead­ing up to Roy’s death, Carter be­lit­tled her boyfriend for fail­ing to make good on pre­vi­ous threats to com­mit sui­cide and made him prom­ise that he would fol­low through. She sent him re­search on dif­fer­ent meth­ods, in­clud­ing hang­ing and jump­ing off a high build­ing, and fi­nally set­tled on car­bon monox­ide poi­son­ing. Carter ad­vised Roy to do it away from home so that no­body would in­ter­rupt and stop his death.

“And u can’t break a prom­ise. And just go in a quiet park­ing lot or some­thing,” she wrote him.

When Roy wrote that he didn’t want to hurt his par­ents, Carter re­as­sured him: “I think your par­ents know you’re in a re­ally bad place. Im not say­ing they want you to do it, but I hon­estly feel like they can ac­cept it.”

Although the case was de­cided by a county ju­ve­nile court judge, le­gal schol­ars said it could have a pro­found ef­fect on how courts think about sui­cide in the fu­ture.

“It may not set a le­gal prece­dent, be­cause I don’t think it does at this level of court, but its no­to­ri­ety will have an im­pact. I think it will em­bolden more pros­e­cu­tors to bring cases like this,” said Lau­rie Leven­son of Loy­ola Law School.

Daniel Med­wed of the North­east­ern Univer­sity School of Law said he thought Carter might have a chance of re­vers­ing the de­ci­sion on ap­peal. “The judge was ba­si­cally up­dat­ing man­slaugh­ter as a doc­trine to ap­ply to con­tem­po­rary cir­cum­stances,” he said. “The text com­mu­ni­ca­tions were in a sense the metaphor­i­cal gun.”

Both teenagers had a his­tory of psy­cho­log­i­cal prob­lems. Carter had strug­gled with anorexia and self-cut­ting. Roy had tried to kill him­self as many as four times pre­vi­ously. In their text mes­sages — they rarely saw each other in per­son — they pro­fessed their love, at one point de­cid­ing they would kill them­selves like Romeo and Juliet, but Carter re­jected the idea and fo­cused in­stead on get­ting Roy alone to com­mit sui­cide.

Pros­e­cu­tors said that Roy was turn­ing the cor­ner on es­cap­ing his de­pres­sion and would not have killed him­self if not for the pres­sure from Carter. He had re­cently earned a mar­itime cap­tain’s li­cense and was set to at­tend Fitch­burg State Univer­sity in the fall.

“Ev­ery time he came up with an ex­cuse not to do it, she kicked his feet from un­der him,” prose­cu­tor Katie Rayburn said.

Carter did not tes­tify. The de­fense re­lied heav­ily on the tes­ti­mony of a celebrity psy­chi­a­trist, Peter R. Breg­gin, who said Carter had delu­sions of grandeur that made her be­lieve that Roy would be bet­ter off dead.

The judge said his de­ci­sion rested heav­ily on the mo­ments when Roy got out of his truck to get a breath of fresh air and was or­dered by Carter to get back in­side. Although it was Roy who took all the steps lead­ing to his own death — re­searched the method, se­cured the gen­er­a­tor and rigged it to the car — he ap­peared to have had sec­ond thoughts, just as hap­pened in past sui­cide at­tempts when he called a friend or a par­ent at the last minute.

“She in­structs Mr. Roy to get back into the truck well know­ing of all the feel­ing he has ex­changed with her, his am­bi­gu­i­ties, his fears, his con­cern,” the judge said.

Af­ter the ver­dict, Roy’s father, Con­rad Roy Jr., told re­porters, “We’d like to just process this ver­dict that we’re happy with.”

Glenn C. Silva Pool Photo

MICHELLE CARTER, 20, re­acts to the Mas­sachusetts judge’s ver­dict, which could have fu­ture ram­i­fi­ca­tions for crim­i­nal cases in­volv­ing on­line speech and as­sisted sui­cide. Carter faces up to 20 years in prison.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.