A Massachusetts judge has found Michelle Carter guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the 2014 death of her then-boyfriend, Conrad Roy III, whom prosecutors said was encouraged to kill himself by Carter through a series of texts and phone calls.
Massachusetts’ Bristol County Juvenile Court Judge Lawrence Moniz handed down his decision on Friday, three days after closing statements in Carter’s six-day trial.
She faces up to 20 years in prison as 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.
Sentencing is set for Aug. 3. It was not immediately clear if Carter intends to appeal. (She waived her right to a jury trial.)
Neither Carter’s attorneys nor her or Roy’s family immediately returned messages seeking comment. Prosecutors declined to comment, pending the sentencing.
In a brief statement reportedly made after the conviction, Roy’s father, Conrad Roy Jr., said his family was pleased with the outcome.
“This has been a very tough time for our family and we’d like to process this verdict that we’re happy with,” he said, according to the New York Times.
Joseph Cataldo, one of Carter’s lawyers, implied after Friday’s hearing that he will possibly appeal, according to the Times. He said he was “disappointed” in the judge’s decision.
Judge Moniz spoke from the bench for about 20 minutes on Friday, explaining his finding before he announced it, and he at first seemed to be exonerating Carter for her behavior in the days leading up to Roy’s suicide.
But then 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,” Moniz said in delivering his ruling.
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.
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As Moniz spoke, Carter — who has been visibly emotional during her trial — became more distraught at the defense table and started to cry, repeatedly looking to her attorney Joseph Cataldo.
“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.’ “
Carter’s trial — which opened nearly three years after Roy, then 18, was found dead in his pickup in a store parking lot in July 2014, having poisoned himself with carbon monoxide — was closely watched by legal scholars. Her 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?
“I think this is going to be a close case,” Larry Cunningham, a former prosecutor and vice dean at St. John’s University School of Law in New York, told PEOPLE ahead of the judge’s finding.
“What’s going to make this case difficult is the fact that the assistance was verbal rather than physical,” Cunningham explains. “The question is: What was her role in the suicide?”
Carter, now 20, was 17 years old when Roy was found dead, on July 13, 2014. She was indicted for involuntary manslaughter in his death in February 2015, after authorities discovered numerous text messages between her and Roy before his suicide.
Those messages, as well as calls between the pair, showed that Carter encouraged Roy’s plan to kill himself — even when he was wavering. For example, in the days before his death, she 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, no more waiting.”
After Roy’s body was found, Carter texted a friend to confess.
“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.”
Carter’s attorney Joseph Cataldo, who tried unsuccessfully to dismiss her charge, arguing her texts are constitutionally protected speech, has contended that her “only role in this is words.”
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,” he said, “but it is not a crime.”
Roy’s close friends knew he’d tried to kill himself previously (and the judge on Friday referenced two previous attempts). Although Roy was recalled as popular, with ambitions to take over his family’s marine salvage business, he also struggled with anxiety and depression.
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Carter’s own psychological history became a part of the trial:
A psychiatrist testified that she was prescribed antidepressants before Roy died that may have impeded her abilities to empathize with others and make sound decisions. At Friday’s hearing, the judge said he did not find that credible, particularly as an explanation for her lack of intentionality.
Carter’s family has previously defended her, saying in a statement after she was charged, “Our hearts have and remain broken for the Roy family. For everyone that does not know our daughter, she is not the villain the media is portraying her to be.”
“She is a quiet, kind and sympathetic young girl,” Carter’s family said. “She tried immensely to help Mr. Roy in his battle with depression.”
That description clashed with the portrait of her painted by prosecutors at trial.
Bristol Assistant District Attorney Maryclare Flynn argued that Carter viewed herself as unpopular and friendless, and she played a “sick game” with Roy’s life — motivated by the need for attention and sympathy by becoming his “grieving girlfriend.”
In her closing statement, Assistant District Attorney Katie Rayburn reportedly charged that Carter “absolutely knew what she was doing and absolutely caused the death of this 18-year-old boy. The risk Michelle Carter created was reckless and amounts to involuntary manslaughter.”
“In the moment he needed a friend the most, when he needed the most help, she did the opposite,” one of Roy’s friends, Evenly Murdock, told PEOPLE in 2015.
“She’ll have to live with that for the rest of her life.”
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.
• With JOHNNY DODD, CHRIS HARRIS, STEVE HELLING and JEFF TRUESDELL