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Crime

Michelle Carter Case: Legal Scholars Closely Watching Her Manslaughter Trial in Boyfriend’s Suicide

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A Massachusetts judge is still weighing the fate of 20-year-old Michelle Carter, who is on trial for involuntary manslaughter for allegedly urging her boyfriend — via a series of chilling texts and phone calls — to kill himself in 2014.

Conrad Roy III, 18, died in his pickup truck in a store parking lot by inhaling carbon monoxide from a portable generator.

In the final hours of Roy’s life, Carter, then 17, 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.”

Legal scholars are closely watching the involuntary manslaughter trial, in which Carter had pleaded not guilty, because of the questions it raises about responsibility. As the verdict hangs in the balance, PEOPLE Senior Editor Alicia Dennis sat down on Thursday’s People Now to discuss the case.

“What [Carter’s] defense team is team is trying to say is that texts are protected speech, and that, although this is a tragedy, they believe that it is not a crime,” Dennis explained in a clip from the show.

Indeed, 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.”

• Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Click here to get breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases in the True Crime Newsletter.

But prosecutors have argued the suicide was the end result of a “sick game” Carter allegedly played with Roy’s life — motivated by the need for attention and sympathy by becoming his “grieving girlfriend.”

“She was not physically there at the scene,” Dennis said on People Now. “But they could prove that she was emotionally there, because she definitely texted him a lot and was on the phone with him — even telling him to get back into the truck when he was wavering during the suicide.”

Larry Cunningham, a former prosecutor and vice dean at St. John’s University School of Law in New York, tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue, “What’s going to make this case difficult is the fact that the assistance was verbal rather than physical. The question is: What was her role in the suicide?”

From left: Michelle Carter, Conrad Roy
Source: Michelle Carter/Facebook; Source: Conrad Roy/Facebook

Dennis said that the case is emotionally resonant for parents who fear who their children may be communicating with.

“Roy was emotionally vulnerable, and of course his parents were very involved in his life and what was going on, but they didn’t know about these dark texts,” she said.

“And when a kid’s 18, parents wonder, ‘Should I be looking at their texts? Is that a privacy thing for them?’ ” she continued. “And I think it’s raising a lot of questions with parents.”

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.