Death by text? What's at stake in the Michelle Carter trial

Carla Harmon
June 17, 2017

Michelle Carter, a 20-year-old who was accused of urging her then-boyfriend to commit suicide three years ago, has been found guilty of involuntary manslaughter by a MA judge.

In July 2014, following her advice to "just park your auto 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.

The defense also hired an expert witness, psychiatrist Dr. Peter Breggin, who testified that he believed Carter was "involuntarily intoxicated" by antidepressants when she sent the texts urging Roy to take his own life. And can a person be found guilty of killing someone based exclusively on what she said in text messages?

To convict, Judge Lawrence Moniz had to find Carter guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. There is no jury because Carter chose not to have one for her trial. "I was the one on the phone with him and he got out of the vehicle because [it] was working and he got scared and I f [-] en told him to get back in ... because I knew that he would do it all over again the next day and I couldn't have him live the way he was living anymore".

In one message, Carter texted her classmate, Samantha Boardman, that she could have stopped Roy's suicide but instead told him to finish the job.

"I was talking on the phone with him when he killed himself.

You can't keep doing this every day", is another message Carter sent to Roy before he killed himself. "You always say you're going to do it, but you never do", she wrote. Moniz said she indicated "that she (could) hear him coughing and she (could) hear the loud noise coming through the motor".

Roy's father said outside court that the family was pleased with the conviction.

The defense, meanwhile, said Carter had a history of depression and anorexia, while Roy had long harbored thoughts of suicide. If the judge convicts Carter of manslaughter, it could set a legal precedent in MA. "I think he just killed himself". The judge is set to issue a verdict in the case on Friday.

In closing arguments Tuesday, prosecutors said Carter berated her vulnerable boyfriend when he had second thoughts about killing himself, listened by phone as he died and used his suicide to get from friends the attention that she desperately craved.

Moniz did not revoke Carter's bail and scheduled her sentencing for August 3.

Although testimony about the secret life of teenagers made for compelling and at times salacious listening, the underlying legal issues have implications for future cases about free speech and assisted suicide. On July 12, the day of his death, Carter told him, "you need to just do it", and "you can't break a promise".

"She did not call the police or Mr. Roy's family", Moniz said.

Unlike 40 other states, MA does not have a law criminalizing assisted suicide. That language came directly from a 2016 Supreme Judicial Court case in which the justices unanimously found that there was probable cause for Carter to be tried for Roy's death.

"This court finds that by instructing Mr. Roy to get back in the truck constitutes 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".

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