BOSTON, Mass. (WPRI) — The seven justices of the Supreme Judicial Court are now considering whether to overturn or uphold the involuntary manslaughter conviction of Michelle Carter, the young woman convicted in the suicide death of her boyfriend, after hearing arguments in her appeal on Thursday.
Carter’s defense team argued before the state’s highest court that she was not responsible for causing the death of Conrad Roy III back in 2014. The young man took his own life in a Fairhaven parking lot after using a generator to fill the cab of his truck with carbon monoxide gas.
“Michelle Carter is the first person ever, in Massachusetts or anywhere else, to be convicted of involuntary manslaughter for verbally encouraging another person to commit suicide,” defense attorney Daniel Marx told the panel of justices. “Michelle Carter did not force Conrad Roy to kill himself. That was a tragic decision that he made.”
Carter, who is now 22, was one month shy of turning 18 at the time. Roy was 18.
The jury-waived trial, which took placed in Taunton in June 2017 before Juvenile Court Judge Lawrence Moniz, revolved around thousands of text messages Carter sent to Roy, encouraging him to kill himself and discussing plans with him in detail.
“You just need to do it Conrad,” she writes in one message. “All you have to do is turn the generator on and you bee [sic] free and happy.”
It was a key moment on the night of July 12, 2014, that Moniz said led him to find her guilty.
“She instructs him to get back into the truck, which she has reason to know is or is becoming a toxic environment inconsistent with human life,” Moniz said when he handed down his verdict.
The evidence that Carter told Roy to get back in the truck comes from her own words, in a text message she sent to her friend Sam Boardman two months after Roy’s death.
“I was on the phone with him and he got out of the car because it was working and he got scared,” Carter writes in the message. “And I [expletive] told him to get back in.”
“She would’ve known she had significant leverage over him,” Assistant District Attorney Shoshana Stern told the justices. “If she had threatened to pull the plug on the attempt, that if nothing else would have gotten him out of the truck.”
Marx argued the admission is not corroborated by any other evidence, though there are phone records that show the two were on the phone for more than an hour around the time Roy is believed to have died.
“We don’t convict people based on uncorroborated confessions,” Marx said.
Part of the hearing was spent discussing assisted suicide, and whether affirming this case could then set a precedent that would allow a manslaughter charge for a person who is helping an elderly or sick relative die by suicide.
Stern said the difference is “coercion,” but Marx argued this case is essentially one where Carter helped Roy kill himself, and the issue should be addressed with an assisted suicide statute in the state legislature.
“There are all kinds of complicated questions here that really should be decided by the legislature, with a statute. [It] should not be decided in the context of this very unusual and tragic situation,” Marx said.
It could take weeks or months for the justices to rule on the case. If Carter’s conviction is upheld, her attorneys could appeal the case directly to the U.S. Supreme Court or explore other federal court avenues.
Carter was sentenced to 15 months at the Bristol House of Correction but her sentence was stayed until after her appeal. She did not attend Thursday’s hearing, but her parents were in the courtroom.