Woman Who Sent Texts Urging Boyfriend’s Suicide Found Guilty of Manslaughter
In a case that hinged largely on a teenage couple’s intimate text messages, Michelle Carter was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter Friday in the 2014 death of her boyfriend, who poisoned himself by inhaling carbon monoxide in his pickup truck, a Massachusetts judge ruled.
Carter’s own words — preserved in hundreds of text messages presented as evidence over six days of testimony — helped seal her conviction in the death of 18-year-old Conrad Roy III, Bristol County Juvenile Court Judge Lawrence Moniz said during a 15-minute explanation of his rationale.
“She admits in … texts that she did nothing: She did not call the police or Mr. Roy’s family” after hearing his last breaths during a phone call, Moniz said. “And finally, she did not issue a simple additional instruction: Get out of the truck.”
Carter, 20, cried silently as Moniz spoke. She stood to receive the ruling, which could set legal precedent for whether it’s a crime to tell someone to commit suicide.
‘There are no winners here’
Prosecutors had argued that Carter sent Roy numerous text messages urging him to commit suicide, listened over the phone as he suffocated, and failed to alert authorities or his family that he’d died. The judge agreed.
“This court has found that Carter’s actions and failure to act where it was her self-created duty to Roy since she put him in that toxic environment constituted reckless conduct,” the judge said. “The court finds that the conduct caused the death of Mr. Roy.”
With Carter standing, Moniz said, “This court, having reviewed the evidence, finds you guilty on the indictment with involuntary manslaughter.”
Roy’s relatives, who sat near Carter in the front row of Moniz’s courtroom, wept as the judge ticked through the steps Roy took to end his life, as well as Carter’s complicity. Sitting opposite them, Carter’s family members also sobbed.
“Although we are very pleased with the verdict, in reality there are no winners here,” prosecutor Katie Rayburn told reporters later. “Two families had been torn apart and will be affected by this for years to come. We hope verdict will bring some closure… It’s been an extremely emotionally draining process for everyone involved.”
Roy aspired to be a tugboat captain and would be alive if not for Carter’s actions, Rayburn said. He had been trying to better himself, and “we all wish he had the opportunity” to grow up, she said.
Added Roy’s father, Conrad Roy Jr.: “This has been a very tough time for our family, and we would just like to process this verdict that we are happy with.”
Moniz let Carter, who was tried as a juvenile because she was 17 at the time of the crime, remain free on bail until her sentencing on August 3. She was ordered to have no contact with members of the Roy family. She cannot apply for or obtain a passport, nor can she leave Massachusetts without permission from a judge.
Case was watched closely
The ruling, which may spur lawmakers to codify the behavior highlighted in the case as criminal, was closely watched by legal experts.
“Given the expansive definition of manslaughter under Massachusetts law, the guilty verdict is not a surprise,” CNN legal analyst Danny Cevallos said.
“Still, this verdict is concerning because it reflects a judicial willingness to expand legal liability for another person’s suicide, an act which by definition is a completely independent choice,” he said. “Historically, suicide has been considered a superseding act which breaks the chain of legal causation.”
In charging Carter with involuntary manslaughter, prosecutors were threading a legal needle, another legal expert said.
“The wrinkle here is whether she coerced him or pressured him into doing something that he wasn’t in a position to rationally and autonomously decide to do because he was in such a depressive state,” Daniel Medwed, professor of law and criminal justice at Northeastern University, said days before Moniz ruled.
“It’s a square peg in a round hole,” he said. “It’s not a perfect fit for manslaughter.”
Texts drove suicide, prosecutors argued
Carter secretly nudged Roy toward suicide by sending him numerous text messages encouraging him to take his life, prosecutors said.
In closing arguments Tuesday, prosecutors said Carter berated her vulnerable boyfriend when he had second thoughts about killing himself, listened by phone as he died and used his suicide to get from friends the attention that she desperately craved.
Carter went from offering “words of kindness and love” to aggressively encouraging Roy via text message to carry out longtime threats to commit suicide, Rayburn told the court.
“It got to the point that he was apologizing to her, … apologizing to her for not being dead yet,” she said in her closing argument.
Rayburn reminded the judge of text messages in which Carter encouraged Roy to get back in the truck. In text messages to a friend, she described hearing his finals words and breaths on the phone.
Roy’s body was found July 13, 2014, a day after his suicide in his parked truck in a Kmart parking lot in Fairhaven, nearly 40 miles from his home.
‘Tragic … not a homicide,’ defense said
Carter’s attorney argued she was a troubled, delusional young woman who was “dragged” into the suicidal journey of Roy, who had long been intent on killing himself.
“The evidence actually established that Conrad Roy caused his own death by his physical actions and by his own thoughts,” defense attorney Joseph Cataldo said. “You’re dealing with an individual who wanted to take his own life. … He dragged Michelle Carter into this.”
Carter was “overwhelmed” by Roy’s talk of suicide while at the same time dealing “with all of her baggage,” including the side effects of medication for depression, Cataldo said.
“It’s sad, it’s tragic,” he said. “It’s just not a homicide.”
Earlier in the trial, a psychiatrist testified that Carter was delusional after becoming “involuntarily intoxicated” by antidepressants. She was “unable to form intent” after switching to a new prescription drug months before Roy’s suicide, and she even texted his phone for weeks after he died, the psychiatrist testified.
Here are some of the messages, as outlined in court documents.
June 19, 2014
Here, Carter urges Roy to seek medical help for his suicidal thoughts.
Carter: “But the mental hospital would help you. I know you don’t think it would but I’m telling you, if you give them a chance, they can save your life”
Carter: “Part of me wants you to try something and fail just so you can go get help”
Roy: “It doesn’t help. Trust me”
Carter: “So what are you gonna do then? Keep being all talk and no action and everyday go thru saying how badly you wanna kill yourself? Or are you gonna try to get better?”
Roy: “I can’t get better I already made my decision.”
June 23, 2014
In this exchange, Carter discourages Roy from harming himself.
Carter: “How do you want to harm yourself”
Roy: “Something idkk yet”
Carter: “Please don’t”
Roy: “I hate myself I’ll always hate myself, I’m never gonna view myself as good I’m so far behind”
Carter: “What is harming yourself gonna do!? Nothing! It will make it worse!”
Roy: “Make the pain go away like you said”
Carter: “It will make the pain go away temporarily, but when you’re done, you’ll just regret it and feel even worse!”
July 7, 2014
Here, Carter tells Roy how she would handle his situation.
Roy: ” If you were in my position. honestly what would you do”
Carter: “I would get help. That’s just me tho. When I have a serious problem like that my first instinct is to get help because I know I can’t do it on my own”
Later that day, however, Carter and Roy discuss the best way for him to produce carbon monoxide (CO).
Carter: “Well there’s more ways to make CO. Google ways to make it. . . ”
Roy: “portable generator that’s it”
July 8, 2014
The next day Roy seems less resolute.
Carter: “So are you sure you don’t wanna [kill yourself] tonight?”
Roy: “What do you mean am I sure?”
Carter: “Like, are you definitely not doing it tonight?”
Roy: “Idk yet I’ll let you know”
Carter: “Because I’ll stay up with you if you wanna do
Roy: ” Another day wouldn’t hurt”
Carter: “You can’t keep pushing it off, tho, that’s all you keep doing”
July 11, 2014
On this day Carter sends Roy her opinion about using a generator in the truck, as opposed to a water pump.
Carter: “…Well in my opinion, I think u should do the generator because I don’t know much
about the pump and with a generator u can’t fail”
July 4-12, 2014
This series of messages was sent over a span of nine days. The —- indicates a pause between conversations.
Carter: “You’re gonna have to prove me wrong because I just don’t think you really want this. You just keeps pushing it off to another night and say you’ll do it but you never do”
Carter: “SEE THAT’S WHAT I MEAN. YOU KEEP PUSHING IT OFF! You just said you were gonna do it tonight and now you’re saying eventually. . . .”
Carter: “But I bet you’re gonna be like ‘oh, it didn’t work because I didn’t tape the tube right or something like that’ . . . I bet you’re gonna say an excuse like that”
Carter: “Do you have the generator?”
Roy: “not yet lol”
Carter: “WELL WHEN ARE YOU GETTING IT”
Carter: “You better not be bull sh*ting me and saying you’re gonna do this and then purposely get caught”
July 11-12, 2014
Overnight and into the next morning, Roy shares concerns over how his parents would handle his suicide.
Roy: “I’m just to sensitive. I want my family to know there was nothing they could do. I am entrapped in my own thoughts”
Roy: “like no I would be happy if they had no guilt about it. because I have a bad feeling tht this is going to create a lot of depression between my parents/sisters”
Roy: “i’m overthinking everything. . f**k. I gotta stop and just do it”
Carter: “I think your parents know you’re in a really bad place. Im not saying they want you to do it, but I honestly feel like they can accept it. They know there’s nothing they can do, they’ve tried helping, everyone’s tried. But there’s a point that comes where there isn’t anything anyone can do to save you, not even yourself, and you’ve hit that point and I think your parents know you’ve hit that point. You said you’re mom saw a suicide thing on your computer and she didn’t say anything. I think she knows it’s on your mind and she’s prepared for it”
Carter: Everyone will be sad for a while, but they will get over it and move on. They won’t be in depression I won’t let that happen. They know how sad you are and they know that you’re doing this to be happy, and I think they will understand and accept it. They’ll always carry u in their hearts”
Roy: “i don’t want anyone hurt in the process though”
Roy: “I meant when they open the door, all the carbon monoxide is gonna come out they can’t see it or smell it. whoever opens the door”
Carter: “They will see the generator and know that you died of CO. . . .”
Roy: “hey can you do me a favor”
Carter: “Yes of course”
Roy: “just be there for my family :)”
Carter: “Conrad, of course I will be there for your family. I will help them as much as I can to get thru this, ill tell them about how amazing their son/brother truly was”
Roy: “Idk I’m freaking out again”
Roy: I’m overthinking”
Carter: “I thought you wanted to do this. The time is right and you’re ready, you just need to do it! You can’t keep living this way. You just need to do it like you did last time and not think about it and just do it babe. You can’t keep doing this every day”
Roy: “I do want to. but like I’m freaking for my family. I guess”
Carter: “Conrad. I told you I’ll take care of them. Everyone will take care of them to make sure they won’t be alone and people will help them get thru it. We talked about this, they will be okay and accept it. People who commit suicide don’t think this much and they just do it”
July 12, 2014
In these exchanges on the day before his body was found, Roy expresses more hesitation about his plan.
Carter: “So I guess you aren’t gonna do it then, all that for nothing”
Carter: “I’m just confused like you were so ready and determined”
Roy: “I am gonna eventually”
Roy: “I really don’t know what I’m waiting for. . but I have everything lined up”
Carter: “No, you’re not, Conrad. Last night was it. You keep pushing it off and you say you’ll do it but u never do. Its always gonna be that way if u don’t take action”
Carter: “You’re just making it harder on yourself by pushing it off, you just have to do it”
Carter: “Do u wanna do it now?”
Roy: “Is it too late?”
Roy: “Idkk it’s already light outside”
Roy: I’m gonna go back to sleep, love you I’ll text you tomorrow”
Carter: “No? Its probably the best time now because everyone’s sleeping. Just go somewhere in your truck. And no one’s really out right now because it’s an awkward time”
Carter: “If u don’t do it now you’re never gonna do it”
Carter: “And u can say you’ll do it tomorrow but you probably won’t”
Carter: “You just need to do it Conrad or I’m gonna get you help”
Carter: “You can’t keep doing this everyday”
Roy: “Okay I’m gonna do it today”
Carter: “Do you promise”
Roy: “I promise babe”
Roy: “I have to now”
Carter: “Like right now?”
Roy: “where do I go? :(”
Carter: “And u can’t break a promise. And just go in a quiet parking lot or something.”