Michelle Carter, a woman who urged her boyfriend to kill himself through a series of text messages, was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter Friday in a Massachusetts juvenile court.
Carter could face up to 20 years in prison for urging Conrad Roy III to take his own life. After exchanging intimate text messages about death for weeks, Roy intentionally filled his truck with carbon monoxide in a parking lot in July 2014.
The landmark decision sets forth the rare legal principle that a person’s words can compel another person’s suicide.
Juvenile Court Judge Lawrence Moniz handed the verdict to Carter after describing how she contributed to the circumstances of Roy’s death. The judge said that the 18-year-old Roy grew fearful as the truck filled with lethal gas, told Carter he was scared and attempted to exit, according to the Associated Press . Carter, who was 17 at the time, replied “get back in,” according to a friend to testified in the trial.
Amid the other text messages scrutinized for the criminal case, Carter also wrote, “You’re finally going to be happy in heaven. No more pain. It’s okay to be scared and it’s normal. I mean, you’re about to die.”
Roy was found dead from carbon monoxide poisoning in a store parking lot in Fairhaven, Massachusetts.
Carter, now 20, will appear in court for sentencing in early August.
“There are no winners here today,” Assistant District Attorney Katie Rayburn told reporters after the verdict’s announcement. “Two families have been torn apart and will be affected by this for years to come.”
Last year, the case reached the state’s Supreme Court, which ruled that Carter could stand trial for her involvement in Roy’s death.
Rayburn acknowledged that this was a “unique case that dealt with a lot of important issues in our society today, but in the end, the case was really about one young man and one young woman brought together by tragic circumstances.”
Roy had struggled with depression and previously attempted to kill himself in 2013. Prosecutors had argued that Carter’s text messages compelled Roy to take his own life and helped him plan his suicide. The judge also agreed that Carter had convinced Roy that his suicide wouldn’t afflict his parents.
“I think your parents know you’re in a really bad place,” one of Carter’s text messages to Roy read. “I’m not saying they want you to do it but I honestly feel like they can accept it,” the text continued.
Defense attorney Joseph Cataldo argued that Roy’s talk of suicide “overwhelmed” Carter, while she dealt with her own “baggage.”
“It’s sad, it’s tragic,” he said, adding, “It’s just not a homicide.”
Martin Healy, of the Massachusetts Bar Association, said in a statement that the jury’s verdict will have “national implications and is a clarion call that seemingly remote and distant communications will not insulate individuals from heinous acts that could rise to the level of criminal culpability,” according to the Boston Herald.
“The defendant’s fate was sealed through the use of her own words,” Healy continued. “The communications illustrated a deeply troubled defendant whose actions rose to the level of wanton and reckless disregard for the life of the victim,” he added.
CNN legal analyst Danny Cevallos, however, said the verdict is not surprising, but concerning in how it “reflects a judicial willingness to expand legal liability for another person’s suicide, an act which by definition is a completely independent choice.”
“Historically, suicide has been considered a superseding act which breaks the chain of legal causation,” he added.