Massachusetts high court upholds Michelle Carter manslaughter conviction

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BOSTON (WPRI) — The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has upheld the involuntary manslaughter conviction of Michelle Carter, the young woman who encouraged her boyfriend to kill himself back in 2014.

Carter was convicted of the crime by juvenile court Justice Lawrence Moniz in 2017, but her sentence of 15 months in jail was delayed until after her state appeals were exhausted. 

The commonwealth’s highest court heard arguments on the case in October and handed down a decision Wednesday affirming Moniz’ decision.

“We conclude that the evidence was sufficient to support the judge’s finding of proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committee involuntary manslaughter as a youthful offender,” the high court wrote in the decision. “And that the other legal issues presented by the defendant, including her First Amendment claim, lack merit.”

Conrad Roy III was found dead in his truck in a Fairhaven parking lot after it filled up with carbon monoxide from a gas-powered pump. He was 18, and text messages presented at trial showed Carter helped him plan the suicide and encouraged him to go through with it, even as he expressed doubts.

Carter’s attorneys tried to argue that verbally encouraging someone to commit suicide does not constitute manslaughter.

“Michelle Carter did not force Conrad Roy to kill himself,” attorney Daniel Marx said in October. “That was a tragic decision that he made.”

But the high court agreed with Judge Moniz, who said it was not only the encouragement via text message that caused Roy’s death, but an action she took during the suicide attempt while on the phone with Roy. According to Carter’s own text messages to a friend, Roy got out of the car to seek fresh air while it was filling up with deadly gas, and she “told him to get back in.”

“[H]is death is my fault like honestly, I could have stopped him,” Carter wrote in the text message to her friend.

“There is no doubt in this case that the defendant wantonly or recklessly instructed the victim to kill himself, and that her instructions caused his death,” the SJC wrote in the decision.

The high court also dismissed Carter’s First Amendment claims, pointing out that speech that constitutes a crime, such as a threat, is not protected by the First Amendment.

“We are very pleased that the SJC affirmed the conviction of Michelle Carter,” Bristol County District Attorney Tom Quinn said. “This type of conduct has long been a crime in Massachusetts.”

The DA’s spokesperson Gregg Miliote said prosecutors would file a motion for the stay of Carter’s sentence to be revoked, so she has to report to the Bristol County House of Correction. He said he expects her to appear in court some time this month.

Marx said Carter’s legal team is evaluating all options “including a possible sppeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

“We are disappointed in the Court’s decision, which adopts a narrative that we do not believe the evidence supports,” Marx said in a statement. “We continue to believe that Michelle Carter did not cause Conrad Roy’s tragic death, and she should not be held criminally responsible for his choice to end his own life.  Today’s decision stretches the law to assign blame for a tragedy that was not a crime.  It has very troubling implications, for free speech, due process, and the exercise of prosecutorial discretion, that should concern us all. “

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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