On Friday, a juvenile court judge in Massachusetts spent nearly 20 minutes explaining why he was about to find Michelle Carter guilty of involuntary manslaughter in her boyfriend’s suicide three years ago.
Judge Lawrence Moniz’s decision was not, as he explained, because of Carter’s behavior in the days before the death of her then-boyfriend, 18-year-old Conrad Roy III, when she was 17.
Carter and Roy exchanged numerous texts before his suicide which showed that, though she had told him to seek “professional help,” Carter also repeatedly went along with Roy’s suicidal planning and even encouraged it at times.
He was found dead in his pickup truck on July 13, 2014, having poisoned himself with carbon monoxide.
“You’re ready and prepared,” she texted him at one point. “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.”
In another text, she told Roy, “I thought you wanted to do this. This time is right and you’re ready.”
Judge Moniz said Friday, in court in Bristol County, Massachusetts, that Roy had also planned for his death on his own — conducting “extensive” research and taking other steps by himself. Though what Carter did to him was deliberate and reckless, it did not cause his death, Moniz said.
Rather, he narrowed in on what Carter, now 20, did right before Roy killed himself in a store parking lot in July 2014, when he called her from outside his pickup truck as he wavered about what to do:
She told him to get back into his vehicle — “which she has reason to know is or is becoming a toxic environment inconsistent with human life,” Moniz said, narrating her actions in the present tense.
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The judge said that that was one of Carter’s crucial decisions leading to her conviction in Roy’s death, for which she now faces up to 20 years in prison. (Moniz cautioned that his remarks from the bench on Friday should not be taken as a complete explanation for his ruling.)
Another key act, according to Moniz, was Carter’s failure to notify anyone else about Roy’s suicide as it happened, even though she knew where he was and what he was doing.
“She did nothing. She did not call the police or Mr. Roy’s family,” Moniz said. “Finally, she did not issue a simple additional instruction [to Roy]: ‘Get out of the truck.’ ”
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Carter, who has been visibly emotional throughout her trial, began to cry as Moniz discussed her actions the day Roy died. She had seemed relieved earlier in the hearing, as the judge appeared to exonerate her in Roy’s death before he focused on the day of the suicide itself.
Moniz noted that Roy had tried to kill himself two previous times, but backed down in both cases. Roy appeared to be repeating that pattern on July 12, 2014, when Carter intervened.
“In October 2012, when he attempted to drown himself, he literally sought air,” Moniz said. “When he exited the truck [in 2014], he literally sought fresh air.”
In his decision, Moniz said he was rejecting the defense’s argument that Carter was involuntarily intoxicated due to the antidepressants she had been prescribed before Roy’s suicide, thus impeding her decision-making.
Moniz also said that, contrary to much of the public discussion around Carter’s trial, the legal issues it concerned were not “novel.”
He highlighted a previous case in Massachusetts, some 200 years ago, in which a jail inmate was prosecuted for convincing another inmate to hang himself.
Carter’s attorney Joseph Cataldo, who tried unsuccessfully to dismiss her charge, arguing her texts are constitutionally protected speech, has contended that her “only role in this is words.”
The texts, he said, “did not contain anything remotely resembling a threat,” according to a court filing previously obtained by PEOPLE.
“This is a tragedy,” he said, “but it is not a crime.”
Not so, Moniz ruled. “This court has found that the [prosecution] has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Ms. Carter’s actions and also her failure to act where she had a self-created duty to Mr. Roy — since she had put him in that toxic environment — constituted each and all wanton and reckless conduct,” he said.
“Said conduct,” he continued, “caused the death of Mr. Roy.”
Sentencing in Carter’s case is set for Aug. 3. It is unclear if she intends to appeal.
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.