Michelle Carter’s own words helped seal her involuntary manslaughter conviction in the suicide of her boyfriend Conrad Roy III.
Hundreds of her text messages presented as evidence over six days of testimony in June convinced a Massachusetts judge of her guilt in a criminal case that hinged largely on the teenage couple’s intimate cellphone exchanges.
Bristol County Juvenile Court Judge Lawrence Moniz will have an opportunity to hear directly from Carter and others before passing sentence on the 20-year-old Thursday. The case, which could lead to new state laws about pressuring someone to kill themselves, has been closely watched by legal analysts.
Carter faces up to 20 years in prison, though experts said such a lengthy sentence is unlikely.
‘I doubt he’ll throw the book at her’
“She will be given little, if any, jail time, in my view,” said Joey Jackson, a criminal defense attorney and CNN legal analyst.
“The crime was horrific, but based upon her youth, I believe the judge’s sentence will focus more on rehabilitation than on punishment. Though some punishment would be appropriate — and I think the judge also needs to deter copycats.”
Jackson noted the judge allowed Carter — who was tried as a juvenile because she was 17 at the time of the crime — to remain free on bail following her conviction. “That’s a big deal, and a sign of his thinking,” Jackson said of the judge’s post-conviction bail status.
“If he was going to slam her, he would have put her in upon conviction.”
Daniel Medwed, a professor of law and criminal justice at Northeastern University, said aggravating factors in favor of a stiff sentence include Carter’s “level of blameworthiness — her truly despicable conduct — and the concept of deterrence, namely the need to construct a sentence that sends a message that this behavior will not go unpunished in the hope that it will deter other teenagers from acting this way.”
On the other hand, Medwed said, her relatively young age at the time of the crime, her history of mental health issues and testimony that she was medicated are mitigating factors.
Medwed believes Carter will receive a prison term of at least five years.
“I doubt he’ll throw the (entire) book at her, but probably several hefty chapters,” he said.
The case could spur the Massachusetts legislature to pass a law that makes it a crime “coercing or encouraging suicide,” Medwed said. Such a law already exist in about 40 other states.
Roy, 18, poisoned himself by inhaling carbon monoxide in his pickup truck in 2014.
In a 15-minute explanation of his ruling, Moniz focused on the defendant’s extensive text messages.
“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 as Carter cried silently.
“And, finally, she did not issue a simple additional instruction: Get out of the truck.”
The state argued that the evidence was damning. 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. Moniz 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.”
One July 2012 exchange of texts messages was typical:
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’s relatives, who sat near Carter in the front row of the 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.
Prosecutor Katie Rayburn said after there were “no winners” in the case, which concluded with two families torn apart, emotionally drained and affected for years.
Roy aspired to be a tugboat captain and would be alive if not for Carter’s actions, Rayburn told reporters. He had been trying to better himself, and “we all wish he had the opportunity” to grow up, she said.
Texts drove suicide, prosecutors argued
During closing arguments, 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.
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 final 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.
Defense: ‘Tragic … (but) not a homicide’
Carter’s attorney said 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.”