In a Massachusetts courtroom Friday, a judge told 20-year-old Michelle Carter that her actions — and her inaction — directly led to the suicide of her boyfriend in July of 2014.
Then, he pronounced her guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
The Carter trial was unique in that the young woman, then 17, was nowhere near her boyfriend Conrad Roy, 18, when he killed himself by piping carbon monoxide into the cab of his pickup truck. But she was communicating with him the whole time through texts and phone calls, encouraging him to go through with his suicide, as she had been doing for weeks before his death.
The verdict was a shock to some who assumed the judge’s decision would fall in line with Massachusetts law, which does not have a specific statute for assisted suicide as it pertains to manslaughter. However, Bristol County Juvenile Court Judge Lawrence Moniz laid out several key reasons for his verdict, and all of them had to do with the choices Carter made during the days and hours surrounding Roy’s death.
1. She encouraged Roy to go through with the suicide in his truck
One of the most critical pieces of evidence in the case was an ongoing series of text messages between the two teens. Though Carter initially encouraged Roy to get help for his suicidal thoughts, she eventually egged him on. On July 12, the day of his death, Carter told him, “you need to just do it,” and “you can’t break a promise.”
The real turning point for Judge Moniz, however, was when Roy exited his pickup truck after he had already started pumping carbon monoxide into it. According to Carter’s indictment, the young man talked to her on the phone for 40 minutes because “he got scared” that the gas was actually working.
According to the same document, Carter told him to get back in the truck.
“When Ms. Carter realizes that Mr. Roy has exited the truck, she instructs him to get back in the truck, which she has reason to know is or is becoming toxic,” Moniz said minutes before the verdict. “The court finds that instructing Mr. Roy to get back in the truck constituted wanton and reckless conduct.”
2. She knew Roy was in a dangerous situation — and was partially responsible for it
During their text message conversations in the weeks before Roy’s death, Carter gave Roy advice on how to kill himself. She suggested using a generator in the car, and mused that whoever found him wouldn’t be hurt by the fumes because they would see the generator and immediately know what happened. She told him it would be painless.
As Roy sat in the carbon monoxide-filled truck, Carter was on the phone with him, according to court records. Moniz said she indicated “that she (could) hear him coughing and she (could) hear the loud noise coming through the motor.”
This is important because, through her description, it was clear Carter knew Roy was in a dangerous situation. His death scene showed that the water pump was placed close to Roy’s body, “thereby giving a good explanation to Ms. Carter’s definition that the noise was loud within the truck.”
“Ms. Carter at that point, therefore, had reason to know that Mr. Roy had followed her instruction,” Moniz said, “and had placed himself in the toxic environment of that truck.”
3. She did nothing to remove him from harm’s way
During his explanation of the verdict, Moniz cited a 2001 state case, Commonwealth v. Levesque. In the case, he said, “It is indicated that where one’s actions create a life-threatening risk to another, there is a duty to take reasonable steps to alleviate the risk. The reckless failure to fulfill this duty can result in a charge of manslaughter.”
He directly related that precedent to Carter’s case.
“She (admitted) in a subsequent text that she did nothing” as Roy was dying, Moniz said. “She did not issue a simple additional instruction: Get out of the truck.”
To the court, Moniz said, this was not only a result of her actions, but of “her failure to act where she had a self-created duty to Mr. Roy, since she had put him into that toxic environment.”
“That said conduct,” Moniz continued, “caused the death of Mr. Roy.”
4. She didn’t alert anyone to his death
Though Carter said she was on the phone with Roy until his dying breath, his body was not discovered until the next day.
“She did not call the police or Mr. Roy’s family,” Moniz said.
Text messages show Carter knew where Roy was when he killed himself, which means she could have directed authorities or even his family to his location. Carter had also asked Roy for the phone numbers of his mother and sister just days before his death and had what Moniz called an “open line of communication” with them.
Instead, he said, “she called no one.”
5. Her actions, in the eyes of the law, could not be explained by involuntary intoxication
During Carter’s trial, a psychiatrist testified that Carter was on a new prescription for antidepressants that made her “involuntarily intoxicated” and kept her from forming intent. Dr. Peter Breggin, who did not treat Carter, cited the fact that Carter texted Roy’s phone for weeks after his death and engaged in self-harm in the months before.
However, Moniz stated that this line of defense did not explain or excuse her “wanton and reckless conduct.”
“The court did not find that analysis credible,” he said.