Michelle Carter Gets 15 Months in Suicide-Text Case, But Won't Go to Jail Until Appeal Is Resolved
Michelle Carter, the Massachusetts woman convicted in June of involuntary manslaughter in the 2014 suicide of her boyfriend, was sentenced to serve 15 months in jail — but she won’t begin serving her term until her potential appeal is resolved, a judge ruled Thursday.
Carter was 17 when she urged Conrad Roy III, 18, through texts and phone conversations to kill himself, even as the young man who battled depression told her just at the very end that he wanted to abandon his plan.
Carter was sentenced to two-and-a-half years, but all but 15 months of that sentence were suspended. However, her lawyer, Joseph Cataldo, said he plans to appeal her conviction, and Massachusetts Judge Lawrence Moniz agreed to stay her jail sentence until the appeal is resolved.
Carter appeared distraught and wept at times during her sentencing and no statement was read on her behalf. Prosecutors and relatives of Roy claimed Carter has not expressed remorse for her actions.
Carter had faced up to 20 years in prison. Prosecutors had asked for 7 to 12 years in prison. The defense had asked for 5 years of supervised probation. She was charged as a youthful offender, which under state law allows her to be sentenced the same as an adult although she was a minor at the time of the crime.
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 and exchanged between him 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 her conviction on June 16, Judge Moniz honed in on what Carter did the day of Roy’s death, which he said ultimately 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.
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.
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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.”
A Controversial Case
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.
At issue, essentially, was one question: Could one person kill another — commit manslaughter — through words alone?
Prior to and then during the trial, Cataldo tried unsuccessfully to dismiss Carter’s charge, arguing her texts are constitutionally protected speech.
The texts, he said, “did not contain anything remotely resembling a threat,” according to a court filing previously obtained by PEOPLE.
According to Cataldo, among Carter’s many messages with Roy, she told him to seek “professional help.”
“This is a tragedy,” Cataldo previously said, “but it is not a crime.”
Cataldo previously told PEOPLE that Roy had tried to talk Roy out of suicide — and that Roy had tried to get Carter to commit suicide with him. At sentencing, Cataldo said Carter had been diagnosed with depressive disorder, adding that she “very much regrets” her actions.
“I suggest that she is not a danger to the public and in the juvenile system, probation is appropriate,” Cataldo said.
“A lot of what has been reported thus far is that Michelle Carter always wanted to endorse Conrad Roy’s plan to kill himself. 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.”
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 — the two stayed in touch through calls, emails and texts, Roy’s family and friends have said.
At trial, Assistant District Attorney Maryclare Flynn said Carter, wanted sympathy and attention from other girls at school, yearning to be the “grieving girlfriend” who couldn’t stop her boyfriend from committing suicide, WPRI reports.
“The defendant needed something to get their attention,” Flynn said. “She used Conrad as a pawn in her sick game of life and death.”
Victim’s Father: ‘How Could Michelle Carter Behave So Viciously?’
Roy 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 also struggled with anxiety and depression and had previously attempted suicide.
He’d recently been accepted to Fitchburg State University and planned to study business after his recent high school graduation.
“I thought he was a little depressed,” his mother, Lynn, testified at trial, but she added, “I thought he was doing great,” MassLive.com reports.
In a statement read in court prior to sentencing, Lynn Roy wrote, “There is not one day that I do not mourn the loss of my beloved son.”
Prior to sentencing, Roy’s father, Conrad Roy, Jr., read a statement saying, “Michelle Carter exploited my son’s weaknesses and used him as a pawn.”
“How could Michelle Carter behave so viscously and encourage my son to end his life? Where was her humanity?” he addd.
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.