Johnny Dodd
June 14, 2017 08:00 AM

Michelle Carter stands trial, charged with involuntary manslaughter, for allegedly urging boyfriend Conrad Roy to take his own life. Will she go to jail? Subscribe now for an inside look into the chilling trial — only in PEOPLE.

Legal scholars are closely watching the outcome of an involuntary manslaughter case involving a Massachusetts woman who prosecutors claim encouraged her 18-year-old boyfriend — via chilling texts and phone calls — to kill himself in 2014, when she was also a teenager.

On Tuesday, a judge in Bristol County Juvenile Court in Massachusetts began weighing the evidence in the case against Michelle Carter, who was 17 when Conrad Roy III died in his truck by inhaling carbon monoxide from a portable generator.

In the final hours of Roy’s life, Carter texted him, “You’re ready and prepared. All you have to do is turn the generator on and you [will] be free and happy. No more pushing it off. No more waiting.”

Now 20, Carter has waived her right to a jury trial and allowed Judge Lawrence Moniz to decide her fate in the legal precedent-setting case that could — if she’s convicted — send her to prison for 20 years in connection with Roy’s death.

“I think this is going to be a close case,” Larry Cunningham, a former prosecutor and vice dean at St. John’s University School of Law in New York, says in this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.

Michelle Carter (right) in court
Faith Ninivaggi/The Boston Herald via AP

“What’s going to make this case difficult is the fact that the assistance was verbal rather than physical,” Cunningham explains. “The question is: What was her role in the suicide?”

For prosecutors, that answer is simple: Bristol Assistant District Attorney Maryclare Flynn argued that Carter viewed herself as unpopular and friendless, and she played a “sick game” with Roy’s life — motivated by the need for attention and sympathy by becoming his “grieving girlfriend.”

But Carter’s attorney Joseph Cataldo, who tried unsuccessfully to convince the state’s Supreme Court to dismiss her charge, contends that her “only role in this is words.”

RELATED VIDEO: Woman Will Stand Trial for Manslaughter After Allegedly Encouraging Her Friend to Kill Himself

Roy had struggled with anxiety and depression and friends said he previously attempted suicide. Cataldo says that among her texts, Carter allegedly told him to seek “professional help.”

“This is a tragedy,” Cataldo says, “but it is not a crime.”

Conrad Roy

Friends of Roy, who had been accepted to Fitchburg State University to study business before his death, described him as a “flirty, funny, popular” kid. His family has been in attendance during Carter’s trial.

“In the moment he needed a friend the most, when he needed the most help, she did the opposite,” longtime pal Evelyn Murdock told PEOPLE in 2015.

“She’ll have to live with that for the rest of her life.”

Suicide Prevention: What to Know

Experts say some common warning signs of suicide include discussing a desire to die or feeling anxious or hopeless, like a burden, or trapped or in pain; withdrawing from others; extreme mood swings, including anger and recklessness; and abnormal sleep patterns (sleeping too much or too little).

Many suicides have multiple causes and are not triggered by one event, according to experts, who underline that suicidal crises can be overcome with help. Where mental illness is a factor, it can be treated.

Reaching out to those in need is a simple and effective preventative measure, experts say.

If you or someone you know is showing warning signs of suicide, consider contacting the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK, texting the Crisis Text Line at 741741 or seeking help from a professional.

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