A state court’s recent decision that a Massachusetts teen will face a criminal trial after allegedly encouraging her friend to kill himself has “created new law” to make the state’s charge stick, her defense attorney tells PEOPLE.
Attorney Joseph P. Cataldo says the state’s Supreme Judicial Court, which ruled Friday that the trial against Michelle Carter could proceed, expanded the definition of manslaughter to include an alleged killer who was not present.
Cataldo says the court also overlooked his statement that Carter, then 17, initially tried to talk 18-year-old Conrad Roy III out of killing himself in 2014.
“They created new law here in Massachusetts and applied it retroactively, but at this point our focus will need to be on the upcoming proceedings in trial court,” Cataldo says.
Carter, he says, “was clearly disappointed, as I was.”
She was charged with involuntary manslaughter after authorities recovered text messages she sent in which, they allege, she implored Roy to go through with the plan to kill himself.
His close friends knew he’d tried to kill himself previously. Although they recalled him as popular, with ambitions to take over his family’s marine salvage business, Roy was also taking antidepressants, suffered from anxiety and had canceled a planned move away to college.
He was found dead in his pickup truck on July 13, 2014, from carbon monoxide poisoning.
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Cataldo’s earlier effort to dismiss the charge against Carter had argued that the texts were free speech protected by the First Amendment. The court disagreed: “It was apparent that the defendant understood the repercussions of her role in the victim’s death. Prior to his death, the defendant sought [apparently unsuccessfully] to have the victim delete the text messages between the two.”
Says Cataldo: “It is in the various text messages that she tells him that he should get help and go to McLean Hospital,” a psychiatric hospital where Carter had also been a patient.
Roy “rejected that, stating that she doesn’t understand that he just wants to die,” Cataldo says. “And this was about three weeks prior to him killing himself. So there are various text messages, and everyone has them, and the jury will also have them.”
Having allegedly helped Roy devise the plan to poison himself with carbon monoxide, Carter was allegedly on the phone with him for more than an hour after his vehicle began to fill with the fatal gas, according to court documents obtained by PEOPLE, released in 2015.
At one point, Carter allegedly encouraged him to stay in his truck, according to the court documents.
According to court documents, she had previously allegedly texted Roy, “You always say you’re gonna do it, but you never do. I just want to make sure tonight is the real thing.”
But the text messages between Carter and Roy are not so simple, Cataldo tells PEOPLE.
“A lot of what has been reported thus far is that Michelle Carter always wanted to endorse Conrad Roy’s plan to kill himself,” he says. “But it will be abundantly clear that for weeks prior to agreeing to his plan, she tried to talk him out of it, and he tried to get her to commit suicide with him.”
“We’re dealing with a 17-year-old impressionable female who was not equipped to deal with Conrad Roy’s suicide plans, and sadly he carried through on his plan,” Cataldo says.
That’s where the law is so important, he says.
“I think the jury will see that she did not cause his death, which is the critical question: Did he commit suicide causing his own death, or did she somehow cause his death? Because he took all of the physical acts and she was not present, I think a jury will not convict her,” Cataldo says.
Now that Carter will stand trial, the scales tip in her favor, Cataldo says.
“The Supreme Judicial Court simply said there was enough to charge her under a probable cause standard, but the new burden [to convict] is beyond a reasonable doubt,” he says. “And I truly believe that the government will be unable to sustain its burden.”
A trial date has not been set.