Taunton, MA — In the Land of the Free, you can and will be charged and convicted of manslaughter for texting your teenage boyfriend and telling him to kill himself. No physical action was needed on the part of Michelle Carter, then 17, to be complicit in her boyfriend’s death other than sending text over the digital either to be read by the troubled teen.
According to the AP, Juvenile Court Judge Lawrence Moniz found that Michelle Carter caused the death of Conrad Roy III, who intentionally filled his truck with carbon monoxide in a store parking lot in July 2014. Carter cried and clutched a handkerchief to her face as Moniz detailed her conduct in explaining how he reached his verdict, but she was stoic when it was formally pronounced.
The court based their case on the fact that as 18-year-old Roy climbed out of the truck as it filled with the poisonous gas and told Carter he was scared, she told him, via text message, to “get back in.”
“This court finds that instructing Mr. Roy to ‘get back in’ the truck constitutes wanton and reckless conduct by Ms. Carter,” the judge said.
As the AP reports, Carter’s lawyer, Joseph Cataldo, argued Roy had a history of depression and suicide attempts and was determined to end his own life. He said Carter initially tried to talk Roy out of it and urged him to get professional help, but eventually went along with his plan.
However, the judge disagreed. He refused to take into account in his verdict any of Roy’s previous suicide attempts.
While it was certainly careless of Carter not to call the police and inform them of Roy’s attempt at suicide, she was a 17-year-old child when it happened. Also, according to Dr. Peter Breggin, a psychiatrist testifying for the defense, Carter was taking Celexa at the time — a drug that targets the brain’s frontal lobe which controls empathy.
Breggin explained, noting the seriousness of the text messages, that Carter was under the impression that she alone could guide Roy to heaven and she would care for his family.
“I thought you wanted to do this. The time is right and you’re ready, you just need to do it!” Carter wrote in one message.
“You can’t think about it. You just have to do it. You said you were gonna do it. Like I don’t get why you aren’t,” Carter wrote to Roy the day of his suicide.
Although prosecutors argued that the above texts support their erroneous claims that Carter is responsible for Roy’s death, they appear to be based more on concern than malicious intent. However, that is irrelevant.
Even if Carter was sending texts to Roy every hour on the hour telling him to ‘kill himself’ — over and over again — she would still never be complicit in harming a single hair on Roy’s head.
The court, in this case, would do well to review the old children’s adage, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” They would also do well to remember what their mothers asked them when they tried to blame someone else for their actions as a child, “If someone tells you to jump off a bridge, are you going to do it?”
Luckily, the ACLU agrees.
The American Civil Liberties Union denounced the conviction, saying it “exceeds the limits of our criminal laws and violates free speech protections guaranteed by the Massachusetts and U.S. Constitutions.”
As the AP reports, Matthew Segal, the ACLU’s legal director for Massachusetts, called Roy’s suicide tragic but said, “It is not a reason to stretch the boundaries of our criminal laws or abandon the protections of our constitution.”
The dangerous precedent set in this case is a de facto attack on the freedom of speech and this ruling should be appealed immediately.
After the verdict, the judge ruled that Carter, who is now 20, can remain free on bail until her sentencing on August 3. For sending a text message, she now faces up to 20 years in a cage.