The details of the case were grim and unusual, a miserable glimpse at lives playing out via technology: A young woman was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter for her role in encouraging a friend — in texts and phone calls — to carry out his suicide.
This week, lawyers for the 22-year-old woman, Michelle Carter, who was convicted in 2017, asked the US Supreme Court to review her case, arguing that her conviction violated the First Amendment and due process. At the same time, a documentary about the case, I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth v. Michelle Carter, was to air on HBO in the US this week.
The events raised renewed interest in the troubling case, which experts say delved into new legal ground around suicide. Carter was sentenced to 15 months in a county jail; she began serving the sentence this year.
Here are three things to know about the case.
Words, not actions, were deemed crimes
It is rare, but not unheard-of, for prosecutors to try to hold someone criminally liable for another person's suicide. In looking at Carter's case, Massachusetts's highest court noted two earlier cases, involving a game of Russian roulette and a husband who helped his wife load a gun and advised her about how to use it.
What was different about Carter's case, experts said, was that she was found to have caused her friend's death by words alone. Carter was roughly an hour away from her friend, Conrad Roy III, 18, when he poisoned himself with carbon monoxide in his truck on July 12, 2014, in Fairhaven, Massachusetts. But prosecutors built much of their case on text messages Carter had sent to Roy in the two weeks before his death as he said he was miserable and debated whether to kill himself. In numerous messages, Carter encouraged him to put aside his doubts and go through with it.
A final phone call sealed the conviction
Prosecutors made much of Carter's texts to Roy, but it was a last phone call, according to the judge in her case, that made Carter culpable.
According to prosecutors, Carter spoke on the phone with Roy as he sat in his truck in a remote spot in a Kmart parking lot, a compression pump filling the cab with fumes. The call was not recorded, but months later, Carter texted another friend and recounted the call: In the text, she said that Roy had grown scared at one point and climbed out of the truck, and that she had told him to get back in.
The judge, Lawrence Moniz of Bristol County Juvenile Court, said that ordering Roy to get back in the truck, and then failing to summon help, made Carter guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
The defence argued there was no proof of what Carter in fact said on the phone, and the HBO documentary questions whether Carter really ordered Roy to get back in the truck or merely claimed later to have done so.
Michelle Carter begins jail sentence over boyfriend's suicide
Lawyers urge judge to jail teen who encouraged boyfriend to kill himself
"Michelle Carter has a lot of issues with deception, with lying for attention," the director, Erin Lee Carr, told The Associated Press. "How are we to trust that one sentence that it actually happened?"
This week, a lawyer for Carter said she was not culpable.
"Michelle Carter did not cause Conrad Roy's tragic death and should not be held criminally responsible for his suicide," the lawyer, Daniel Marx, said in an emailed statement.
The friends were rarely together in person
The case drew intense national attention partly because it involved a relationship that largely played out in texts and Facebook messages, and partly because many of those messages were made public as part of the legal proceedings.
The case painted a portrait of two disturbed teenagers, who met on vacation in Florida in 2012 through their families. They lived less than an hour apart in Massachusetts but rarely saw each other in person. Still, their relationship was intense; they texted dozens of times a day. Carter spoke of Roy as her boyfriend, though he did not appear to regard her in the same way.
Carter suffered from an eating disorder and had been treated in a psychiatric hospital. Roy had been physically and verbally abused at home and had made several suicide attempts. In videos recorded on his computer and played in court, Roy called himself a "minuscule little particle on the face of this earth," "an abortion," and "no-good trash."
When Roy talked about suicide, Carter at first urged him not to, and to get help. But in July 2014, she abruptly changed her attitude and started encouraging him to do it, the exchanges of messages showed. Why she did is one of the enduring mysteries of the case. Prosecutors argued that she believed she would get attention and sympathy as the "grieving girlfriend." A psychiatrist who testified for the defence said she was suffering from delusions brought about by a recent switch in antidepressant medications.
WHERE TO GET HELP:
If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call police immediately on 111.
OR IF YOU NEED TO TALK TO SOMEONE ELSE:
• 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP) (available 24/7)
• YOUTHLINE : 0800 376 633
• NEED TO TALK? Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7)
• KIDSLINE : 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• WHATSUP : 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757 or TEXT 4202
Written by: Kate Taylor
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