BOSTON — Massachusetts’ highest court has ruled that a teenage girl must stand trial on a manslaughter charge for encouraging her boyfriend to kill himself by sending him dozens of text messages and telling him to “get back in” a truck filled with carbon monoxide fumes.
The Supreme Judicial Court ruled Friday, July 1st that a grand jury had probable cause to indict Michelle Carter in the 2014 death of 18-year-old Conrad Roy III.
Carter’s lawyer said her texts were protected by the First Amendment and didn’t cause Roy to kill himself.
But the court noted that the grand jury heard evidence suggesting that Carter engaged in a “systematic campaign of coercion” that targeted Roy’s insecurities and that her instruction to “get back in” his truck in his final moments was a “direct, causal link to his death.”
The indictment, filed in February 2015, states:
“From at least July 6th through July 12th, 2014, Carter assisted Conrad’s suicide by counseling him to overcome his doubts, devising a plan to run a combustion engine within his truck in order to poison him with carbon monoxide, and by directing him to go back in his truck after he exited it, when he became frightened the plan was working.”
Prosecutors maintain that Carter sent messages to Roy that said: “You just have to do it,” “Tonight is the night,” and “It’s painless and quick.”
According to the indictment, when Roy expressed hesitancy at going through with the suicide, she sent him more messages expressing her frustration: “You always say you’re gonna do it, but you never do. I just want to make sure tonight is the real thing.”
The indictment says: “Her counsel took the form of positive direction, where she told him that he was “strong” enough to execute the suicide plan, and that he would be happy once he was dead — with Carter saying via text message: “Straight to heaven, guided by God.” Roy replied by saying: “And I will be happy again.” Carter answered, saying: “Yes, you will.”
Roy, of Mattapoisett, Massachusetts was found dead of carbon monoxide poisoning on July 13th, 2014 in Fairhaven, Massachusetts. Court documents show he used a combustion engine to induce carbon monoxide poisoning. Roy was battling depression and previously tried to commit suicide.
Prosecutors say text messages between Carter and Roy show Carter was an accessory to his death. They say the messages show Carter encouraged Roy to kill himself — even helping him to research and determine the best method for doing so.
The indictment further accuses Carter of convincing Roy his suicide wouldn’t afflict his parents and siblings with emotional distress:
“I think your parents know you’re in a really bad place. I’m not saying they want you to do it, but honestly, I feel like they can accept it,” Carter said in a text message to Roy, according to the indictment.
The Bristol County District Attorney’s Office released on August 28th, 2015 the indictment filed against Michelle Carter that includes the thousands of text messages sent in this case in a prosecution response to a defense motion seeking to dismiss the indictment.
CLICK HERE to read the indictment against Michelle Carter, which includes the text messages sent by Carter and Roy in this case.
The defense argues Carter was troubled too, and that she was just trying to help her boyfriend — pointing out that the text messages show she was urging him to seek help at a mental health facility where she was undergoing treatment.
WCBV reports Joseph Cataldo, the attorney for Carter told a judge on August 24th, 2015 prosecutors are punishing Carter for her speech. Carter’s attorney argued the text messages are protected as free speech. The defense argued Carter actually encouraged Roy not to take his own life and that the judge should drop the manslaughter charge against her.
WCVB reports Cataldo said Carter at first tried to discourage Roy from killing himself via text message, before encouraging him because she was “brainwashed” — indicating Roy was trying to get Carter to participate in a “Romeo-and-Juliet-style death pact.”
“The government is harping, if you will, on her saying ‘when are you going to do it? When are you going to do it?’” Joseph Cataldo, Carter’s attorney said. “What they are not harping on are all the times she said ‘don’t do it, don’t do it.’”
Prosecutors countered that speech can be the basis for criminal charges and said Carter tried to cover her tracks, even asking Roy to delete her messages.
“One can be an aider and abettor or an accessory before the fact simply for words,” said New Bedford Assistant District Attorney Katie Rayburn. “Her words are not protected, Your Honor. Her words are harmful, offensive and likely to cause an immediate, violent act,” Rayburn stated.
According to the district attorney’s office, after finding Roy dead inside his truck, police searched Roy’s cell phone and found he had been text messaging Carter up until his death.
Additionally, prosecutors say Carter was on the phone with Roy as he sat in his truck during his suicide. They say she even encouraged him to get back into his truck when he exited, fearing the carbon monoxide was working.
“Like, I honestly could have stopped it,” Carter said later in a text message to a friend (according to the indictment). “I was the one on the phone with him, and he got out of the car because (the carbon monoxide) was working and he got scared. I (expletive) told him to get back in.”
Court documents show she later told a friend via text message: “It’s my fault. I was talking to him while he killed himself. I heard him cry in pain. I was on the phone with him and he got out of the car because it was working and he got scared and I told him to get back in.”
The indictment shows Carter told her friend:
“I told him to get back in because I knew he would do it all over again the next day, and I couldn’t have him live that way — the way he was living anymore. I couldn’t do it. I wouldn’t let him. Therapy didn’t help him and I wanted him to go to McLeans with me when I went but he would go in the other department for his issues, but he didn’t want to go because he said nothing they would do or say would help him or change the way he feels. So I like, started giving up because nothing I did was helping — and but I should have tried harder. Like, I should have did more. It’s all my fault because I could have stopped him but I (expletive) didn’t. All I had to say was I love you and don’t do this one more time, and he’d still be here.”
Carter is accused of text messaging Roy’s mother and sister after his death — asking whether they knew where he was.
And the indictment alleges that from July 2014 through December 2014, Carter text messaged Roy’s mother — telling her that Conrad loved her and that his death was not her fault. Carter never indicated she had been communicating with Roy on the night of his death, according to the indictment.
Text messages between Carter and a friend indicates she became concerned when learning that the police were going to read text messages between her and Roy, according to the indictment:
“I just got off the phone with Conrad’s mom about 20 minutes ago and she told me that detectives had to come to go through his things and stuff. It’s something they have to do with suicides and homicides and she said they have to go through his phone and see if anyone encouraged him to do it on text and stuff.
Sam, they read my messages with him I’m done. His family will hate me and I can go to jail.”
In September 2014, Carter organized a softball tournament in Roy’s memory and raised $2,300 for mental health awareness, according to police.
“I just felt like blood drained out of me. I don’t believe this,” Janice Roy, the boy’s grandmother, told WBZ earlier last year. “He was having problems with depression for a few years.”
Janice Roy said she believed her grandson was manipulated into taking his own life.
“He was in that fragile state, yes. And I think he could have been manipulated not to,” she said.
Conrad Roy’s family said he had just earned his captain’s license and was helping the family tugboat business.
“I was so proud of him when he got his captain’s license,” Conrad Roy Sr., the boy’s grief-stricken farther, told WBZ. “He was very young.”
Carter could face 20 years in prison if convicted.
Carter was arraigned on February 6th, 2015 in New Bedford Juvenile Court and released on $2,500 bail and told not to use social media.