TAUNTON, Mass. — A young woman who as a teenager encouraged her suicidal boyfriend to kill himself in dozens of text messages and told him to “get back in” a truck filled with toxic gas was sentenced Thursday to 15 months in jail for involuntary manslaughter.
Michelle Carter was convicted in June by a judge who said her final instruction to Conrad Roy III caused his death. Carter was 17 when Roy, who was 18, was found dead of carbon monoxide poisoning in July 2014.
Juvenile Court Judge Lawrence Moniz gave Carter, now 20, a 2 1/2-year jail sentence but said she had to serve only 15 months of that. He also sentenced her to five years of probation. He granted a defence motion that will keep Carter out of jail until her appeals in state courts are exhausted.
The judge called the case, which has garnered international attention, “a tragedy for two families.”
Carter’s lawyer, Joseph Cataldo, asked the judge to spare her any jail time and instead give her five years of probation and require her to receive mental health counselling. He said she was struggling with mental health issues — bulimia, anorexia and depression — during the time she urged Roy to kill himself.
“Miss Carter will have to live with the consequences of this for the rest of her life,” Cataldo said. “This was a horrible circumstance that she completely regrets.”
Prosecutor Maryclare Flynn called probation “just not reasonable punishment” for Carter’s role in Roy’s death. She asked the judge to send Carter to state prison for seven to 12 years.
Flynn said Carter “undertook a deliberate, well-thought-out campaign” to cause Roy’s death in a “quest for attention” and sympathy from her friends. She said after Roy’s death, Carter put on a charade as “the grieving girlfriend” for Roy’s family and friends, even though she had repeatedly pressured him to act on his suicidal thoughts.
Flynn said Carter could have stopped Roy because the two teenagers were on the phone together as Roy succumbed to carbon monoxide inside his truck.
“All she had to do was say, ‘Get out of the car,’ ‘Get out of the truck,’ and none of us would be here right now,” Flynn said.
In dozens of text messages, Carter had urged Roy to follow through on his talk of taking his own life.
“The time is right and you are ready … just do it babe,” Carter wrote in a text the day he killed himself.
The sensational trial was closely watched on social media, in part because of the insistent tone of Carter’s text messages.
“You can’t think about it. You just have to do it,” Carter wrote in one text. “You said you were gonna do it. Like I don’t get why you aren’t.”
Cataldo argued Roy was determined to kill himself and nothing Carter did could change that. He said Carter initially tried to talk Roy out of it and urged him to get professional help but eventually went along with his plan. He also argued Carter’s words amounted to free speech protected by the First Amendment.
In convicting Carter, the judge focused his ruling on Carter telling Roy to “get back in” after he climbed out of his truck as it was filling with carbon monoxide and told her he was afraid. The judge said those words constituted “wanton and reckless conduct” under the manslaughter statute.
Roy’s relatives told the court they were devastated by his death. His father, Conrad Roy Jr., said it inflicted the “worst emotional pain” he has ever experienced.
“I am heartbroken,” he said.
A teenage sister, Camden Roy, recalled her 13 years with her older brother and said she’s “haunted” by the realization she’ll never see him wed or be an aunt to his children.
Carter and Roy met in Florida in 2012 while both were on vacation with their families. After that, they only met in person a handful of times. Their relationship consisted mainly of texting.
Cataldo said he’s confident Carter eventually will be vindicated. He said his appeal will be based on several grounds, including his argument Carter’s text messages and conversations with Roy amounted to free speech protected by the Constitution. He said he will also argue Carter didn’t break any laws because Massachusetts doesn’t have a law against assisting or encouraging suicide.