A Massachusetts woman is on trial this week in the 2014 death of her boyfriend, whom she allegedly encouraged to kill himself when she was 17 years old.
Michelle Carter, now 20, faces 20 years in prison if convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the death of 18-year-old Conrad Roy III. She has denied the accusations against her.
Opening statements began Tuesday. Here are five things to know about the case.
1. Conrad Roy Died of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in His Truck
Roy, from Fairhaven, Massachusetts, was known to his friends as a “funny, flirty” athlete who’d recently earned his sea captain’s license and dreamed of taking over his family’s marine towing and salvage business. But he had also struggled with anxiety and depression and previously attempted suicide.
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 water hose to his exhaust pipe to fill the cab with the carbon monoxide that killed him.
2. Michelle Carter Allegedly Implored Roy to Go Through with His Suicide
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 that were between him and Carter, who said she was his girlfriend.
Among those were texts she sent 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 written admission to a friend in which she recalled a phone call with Roy after he got out of his truck and told her he was scared and didn’t want to abandon his family.
“Get back in,” Carter said she told him.
3. Her Lawyer Said She Shouldn’t Face Criminal Charges
Carter’s attorney, Joseph P. Cataldo, doesn’t dispute that his client texted Roy — but he has said the messages were not criminal and certainly do not rise to the level of manslaughter.
“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 previously told PEOPLE. “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.”
Cataldo argued that the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, which allowed the criminal charge of manslaughter to proceed, wrongly expanded the crime’s definition to include an alleged killer who was not present.
He said the court also overlooked his statement that Carter had tried to convince Roy not to kill himself.
“It is in the various text messages that she tells him that he should get help and go to McLean Hospital,” a psychiatric facility where Carter had also once been a patient, Cataldo told PEOPLE.
But, he said, Roy “rejected that, stating that she doesn’t understand that he just wants to die. And this was about three weeks prior to him killing himself.”
Cataldo further tried to dismiss the charge against Carter by arguing her texts were free speech protected by the First Amendment.
The court disagreed, ruling that “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.”
4. Carter Told a Friend, ‘His Death Was My Fault’
Carter and Roy met several years before his suicide while on separate vacations to Florida; Carter was the granddaughter of a Roy family friend.
Though they lived about an hour apart — Roy in Fairhaven and Carter in Plainville, Massachusetts — they stayed in touch through calls, emails and texts, Roy’s family and friends have said.
According to police, on July 10, 2014, three days before Roy was found dead, Carter began texting and emailing others claiming that he was missing when she knew otherwise.
Investigators suspect this was part of a larger plot.
As they stated in a police affidavit, “It is believed that Carter acted in this way because she was planning to continue to encourage Conrad to take his own life, so as a result she was beginning to put together a plan to get sympathy from her friends, which was evident because at this point she already started explaining that it’s her fault that Conrad is dead, even though he was still alive and speaking and texting with her regularly.”
On the day of Roy’s suicide, Carter texted a friend that “he just called me and there was a loud noise like a motor and I heard moaning like someone was in pain and he wouldn’t answer when I said his name I stayed on the phone for like 20 mins and that’s all I heard.”
She would later write to that same friend, apparently referring to Roy: “His death was my fault … he got out of the car, and I told him to get back in … because I knew he would do it all over again the next day.”
5. The Case Raises Complicated Questions of Guilt
On Monday, Carter waived her right to a jury trial and placed her fate in the hands of a judge in Massachusetts’ Bristol County Juvenile Court.
“Prosecutors will have to prove that Carter [caused] Conrad Roy to kill himself and essentially caused his death,” Daniel Medwed, a law and criminal justice professor at Northeastern University, told The Washington Post. “Defense lawyers are going to argue that he’s had suicidal tendencies predating their relationship. They’re going to emphasize that he was alone in his car, that ultimately it was his decision.”
Medwed added, “There may be an issue on the extent to which she was aware of the risk. She knew he was suicidal, but did she know that he was going to go through with it?”