Michelle Carter, whose encouragement of her 18-year-old boyfriend’s 2014 suicide led to her conviction and a 15-month prison sentence for involuntary manslaughter, has appealed to overturn the verdict.
Carter, then 17, was convicted in June of involuntary manslaughter for urging Conrad Roy III, 18, through texts and phone conversations to kill himself, even as the young man who battled depression told her he wanted to abandon his plan.
In court papers filed last month, her attorneys say the conviction based on “words alone” is a violation of her right to free speech, according to the Associated Press.
“This appeal presents novels question of constitutional and criminal law,” her attorneys wrote in the appeal filed Feb. 5 with the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, reports The Boston Globe. “It will set precedent for who may be prosecuted for encouraging suicide with words alone.”
“Carter is the first defendant to have been convicted of killing a person who took his own life, even though she neither provided the fatal means nor was present when the suicide occurred,” her appeal states. “Nothing in Massachusetts law made clear to 17-year-old Carter, or anyone else, that such circumstances could constitute involuntary manslaughter.”
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Carter had faced up to 20 years in prison. She actually was sentenced to two-and-a-half years, but all but 15 months of that sentence were suspended and her sentence was put on hold at the time it was handed down until the expected appeal could be resolved. In the meantime, she has been free.
When Roy Wanted to Exit Truck, Carter Told Him to ‘Get Back In’
On July 13, 2014, authorities found Roy’s body in his pickup truck, in a parking lot where, the night before, he had attached a hose to a portable generator to fill the cab with the carbon monoxide that killed him.
Investigators soon discovered a series of text messages — eventually more than 1,000, according to prosecutors — sent in the week prior to Roy’s death between he and Carter, who said that she was his girlfriend.
Among those were ones from her that stated: “You always say you’re gonna do it, but you never do. I just want to make sure tonight is the real thing,” “You just have to do it” and “It’s painless and quick.”
Police also found Carter’s subsequent written admission to a friend in which she recalled a phone call with Roy, who had exited his truck as it filled with toxic fumes. He told her that he was scared and didn’t want to abandon his family.
“Get back in,” Carter said she told him.
In announcing Carter’s conviction, Massachusetts Judge Lawrence Moniz said Carter’s actions specifically on the day of his death led to her conviction.
“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.
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The judge highlighted two moments: Carter telling Roy to get back into a truck that she knew was going to fill with deadly carbon monoxide, and her failure to tell anyone else about it at the time.
“She [instructed] Mr. Roy to get back into the truck, well-knowing of all of the feelings that he [had] exchanged with her: his ambiguities, his fears, his concerns,” Moniz said. He found that that encouragement deliberately and recklessly created a situation in which Roy was likely to suffer serious harm — as indeed he did.
“She did nothing. She did not call the police or Mr. Roy’s family,” Moniz said of Carter. “Finally, she did not issue a simple additional instruction [to Roy]: ‘Get out of the truck.’ ”
During Carter’s trial, a psychiatrist testified that antidepressants prescribed to her before Roy died may have impeded her ability to empathize with others and make sound decisions. The judge said he did not find that credible.
After Roy’s body was discovered, Carter texted a friend to confess her role.
“I could have stopped it,” she wrote. “I was on the phone with him and he got out of the car because it was working and he got scared and I [expletive] told him to get back in.”
The case has been closely watched by legal scholars. Carter’s defense has argued that the courts “created new law” in Massachusetts in order to allow her prosecution.