Law would ‘send a message’
Bill inspired by Carter case refiled in Massachusetts
PLAINVILLE — A bill inspired by the Michelle Carter case that would make it a crime to coerce someone to commit suicide has been refiled at the Massachusetts Statehouse.
Carter was charged while a senior at King Philip Regional High School with badgering her boyfriend to commit suicide in a landmark case that received national attention.
She was released from jail last year after serving a 15-month sentence for involuntary manslaughter in the suicide death of 18-year-old Conrad Roy III of Mattapoisett.
Now 24, she is on probation until 2022.
Roy killed himself in July 2014 by breathing in carbon monoxide in his pickup truck. A judge found that he did so at Carter’s urging. The two exchanged a series of text messages and phone calls discussing Roy’s plans.
Carter’s state and federal appeals of her conviction were rejected.
The bill, called Conrad’s Law, makes it a crime to intentionally coerce or encourage a person to commit or attempt to commit suicide by using physical acts or mental coercion that manipulates “a person’s fears, affections or sympathies.”
It is punishable by up to five years in prison.
During her trial, prosecutors said Carter knew Roy was battling mental health problems and had made previous suicide attempts, and argued that she sapped his will to live.
“There is acceptable behavior and unacceptable behavior and coercing someone to commit suicide is clearly unacceptable behavior,” said state Sen. Barry Finegold, D-Andover, who refiled the bill for the current legislative session.
The bill was sidelined in the last legislative session by the coronavirus pandemic, according to Finegold, but had “momentum” to pass.
State Sen. Paul Feeney, D-Foxboro, is a backer of the bill and supported it last year.
“Like everyone else, I watched in horror,” Feeney said of the Carter trial. “There has to be something we can do to prevent a tragedy in the future.”
Feeney said no law can solve all of society’s ills, but the bill would give a prosecutor “the tools in the tool box” to handle the crime. It also “sends a message” to anyone that they will be prosecuted if they manipulate someone with suicidal ideations into killing themselves, Feeney said.
Under current law, a person would face manslaughter charges, which carry a maximum 20 years in prison. But supporters of the proposed law say a separate charge would apply more directly and lead to fewer appeals.
“What I didn’t realize is that Massachusetts is one out of eight states that doesn’t have anything like this on the books,” said Finegold, a lawyer.
Conrad Roy’s mother, Lynn Roy, who testified at Carter’s trial, helped craft the bill and testified in favor it when it was initially proposed.
Finegold commended the Roy family and said they told him “this will not bring back their son, but it will help other children and other parents.”
Finegold said the proposed bill addresses the concerns of free speech advocates because its focus is narrow and would apply only to a person
who knows someone is suicidal. “It’s focus is on a person’s mindset,” Finegold said.
One provision applies to a
person who exercises “substantial control” or “undue influence” where “the will of one person is substituted for the wishes of another.”