BOSTON (CN) – The highest court in Massachusetts upheld the involuntary manslaughter conviction Wednesday of a teen whose ex-boyfriend killed himself after she encouraged him in text messages to do so.
Conrad Roy had attempted suicide between October 2012 and July 2014 by various means, including overdosing on over-the-counter medication, drowning, water poisoning and suffocation. Each time Roy either abandoned the attempt or sought rescue.
On July 13, 2014, after the 18-year-old Roy was found dead in his truck, investigators found that he had been communicating with 17-year-old Michelle Carter about his plans.
Roy had used a gas-powered water pump to fill his truck with carbon monoxide while parked outside a Kmart in Fairhaven, and investigators learned that Carter had not only failed to get Roy help but encouraged him to follow through.
She waived her right to a jury trial and appealed to the Supreme Judicial Court after a trial judge convicted her of involuntary manslaughter.
Wednesday’s ruling quotes the verdict as saying that Roy had gotten out of the truck as the cabin filled up with gas, “seeking fresh air, in a way similar to how he had abandoned his prior suicide attempts.”
“The judge found that when the defendant realized he had gotten out of the truck, she instructed him to get back in, knowing that it had become a toxic environment and knowing the victim’s fears, doubts, and fragile mental state,” the opinion states. “The victim followed that instruction.”
Carter argued that the First Amendment protected her from being convicted over her text messages, but the Supreme Judicial Court affirmed.
“The evidence against the defendant proved that, by her wanton or reckless conduct, she caused the victim’s death by suicide,” Associate Justice Scott Kafker wrote for the seven-person court. “Her conviction of involuntary manslaughter as a youthful offender is not legally or constitutionally infirm.”
After a seven-day bench trial, Bristol County Judge Lawrence Moniz sentenced Carter to 15 months in prison followed by probation until Aug. 1, 2022. Her prison sentence has been stayed pending her appeal.
Kafker called it clear Wednesday that Carter’s judge “did in fact consider the defendant’s age and maturity when evaluating her actions and that he was familiar with the relevant case law and ‘mindful’ of the general principles regarding juvenile brain development.”
“He noted that on the day of the victim’s death, she was seventeen years and eleven months of age and at an age-appropriate level of maturity,” the ruling explains.
Carter’s attorneys at Fick & Marx said they may appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“We continue to believe that Michelle Carter did not cause Conrad Roy’s tragic death, and she should not be held criminally responsible for his choice to end his own life,” the firm said in an email. “Today’s decision stretches the law to assign blame for a tragedy that was not a crime. It has very troubling implications, for free speech, due process, and the exercise of prosecutorial discretion, that should concern us all.”