Director Erin Lee Carr re-examines the complex lives of Conrad Roy III and Michelle Carter in the new HBO two-part film, I Love You, Now Die

By Jeff Truesdell
July 08, 2019 03:05 PM
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Erin Lee Carr had a firm opinion on the Michelle Carter case after reading about the teen who encouraged her boyfriend to kill himself via text and phone calls.

“I was disgusted by Michelle, like many people,” says the documentary filmmaker, who then amends the statement: “I think the better word would be, I was very disturbed.”

The texts sent by Carter, then 17, to 18-year-old Conrad Roy III in 2014 paint a horrifying portrait: Carter listed ways to kill himself after he expressed a desire to do so. A judge later would convict Carter of involuntary manslaughter; she currently is serving a 15-month prison sentence.

“Why don’t you just drink bleach,” Carter wrote in one text to Roy. “Hang yourself, jump off a building, starve yourself idk there’s a lot of ways.”

Such messages created a “very uncomfortable” first impression, Carr tells PEOPLE. “But I also know nobody says those things if they’re doing well mentally.”

Carr never met Carter, who is now 22. But in digging beyond that surface, the director excavates information leading to more complex understanding of the events leading up to the tragedy, as told in the new HBO two-part documentary film I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth v. Michelle Carter, premiering July 9 and 10 (8 p.m. ET/7 p.m. CT).

Michelle Carter
| Credit: AP/REX/Shutterstock

The picture painted by prosecutors allowed little room for nuance. Carter, they said, was a lonely young woman and manipulated Roy — who struggled with depression and social anxiety — so she would earn sympathy from her peers after his death.

The Massachusetts teens had been introduced years earlier while on separate vacations with their families to Florida. Carter was the granddaughter of a Roy family friend. Although they lived about an hour apart — Roy in Fairhaven, and Carter in Plainville —– they kept in touch through calls, emails and texts, with perhaps no more than five face-to-face meetings.

Conrad Roy
| Credit: Roy Family

Carter nevertheless came to think of herself as his girlfriend. Among the things they shared: Each was taking prescription anti-depressants, and both had tried to kill themselves before Roy succeeded on July 12, 2014.

According to the judge who convicted her, Carter bore no blame for Roy’s planning, nor for his actions that led him to secure a generator, connect a hose from the generator to the cab of his pickup truck and start the motor to fill the space with deadly carbon monoxide.

But Carter crossed a legal line — and assumed fault — after Roy panicked and got out of the vehicle, and Carter in a phone call told him to “get back in,” according to an account she later texted to a friend, said Judge Lawrence Moniz in his ruling.

Michelle Carter awaits her sentencing on Aug. 3, 2017
| Credit: Matt West/The Boston Herald/AP

Carr challenges that version in a documentary that asks viewers to consider whether the judge — and the appeals court that upheld Carter’s conviction — got it right.

She also shows viewers that Carter, too, was suffering.

From a high schooler portrayed by classmates in the courtroom as needy and isolated, to a confident and opinionated presence in her social media, “there were so many different Michelles,” says Carr. “One thing that was so clear to me was how much pain she was in.”

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Critics of the precedent-setting criminal charge and conviction claim that among thousands of messages between Carter and Roy, prosecutors presented only those that served their case.

Carr finds a wealth of additional revelations in the pair’s mountain of written words.

“This film would not have been possible 15 years ago,” she says, noting the preferred — and preserved — online interactions of their generation. Absent the ability to interview either Carter or Roy, “it was like having a conversation with them,” she says. “It was like being in the room with them.”

She adds, “I wanted you to walk away from this movie understanding what it’s like to be in Michelle’s head.”

She won’t say whether Carter deserves her conviction. “But I do think there’s so much more to consider,” she says.

The two-part HBO documentary film I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth v. Michelle Carter debuts July 9 and 10 (8 p.m. ET/7 p.m. CT).

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text “home” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.