“You have to just do it”: Teen charged in death of boyfriend

Seventeen-year-old Michelle Carter has been charged with involuntary manslaughter in the death of her boyfriend, Conrad Roy III, who committed suicide in 2014.

Photo by Fox 43.

On July 13, 2014, Conrad Roy III was found inside his truck in a parking lot after he used a combustion engine to induce carbon monoxide poisoning.  After investigation, the Bristol County District Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts released text messages that show Roy’s girlfriend, Michelle Carter, encouraging him to take his own life.  The content of the text messages between the couple led prosecutors to charge Carter with involuntary manslaughter in the death of her former boyfriend.

The texts show that Carter not only encouraged Roy to take his life, but also helped him to figure out the best way to do so

The text messages between Roy and Carter present a disturbing exchange between a high school boyfriend and girlfriend.  The texts show that Carter not only encouraged Roy to take his life, but also helped him to figure out the best way to do so.

“You have to just do it,” she texted to him, according to the documents.  “You have everything you need.  There is no way you can fail.  Tonight is the night.  It’s now or never.”

At times Roy expressed hesitancy at going through with the plan and Carter sent him texts expressing her frustration.  “You always say you’re gonna do it, but you never do,” she texted. “I just want to make sure tonight is the real thing.”

Carter also helped her boyfriend research the best method of siphoning carbon monoxide into his truck.  Her frustration with Roy continued as she told him he was making up excuses not to go through with the suicide as they discussed the plan.  “But I bet you’re gonna be like ‘oh, it didn’t work because I didn’t tape the tube right or something like that,” she texted. “I bet you’re gonna say an excuse like that…you seem to always have an excuse.”

Just in case the carbon monoxide poisoning didn’t work Carter had a plan; she texted to Roy to “try the bag or hanging.”

Carter and Roy talked on the phone for more than an hour as Roy sat in his truck on the day of his death.  According to the documents, Carter would later admit to encouraging him to stay in the vehicle as the situation became deadly.

“Like, honestly I could have stopped it”, Carter said in a text to her friend several months after Roy’s death.  “I was the one on the phone with him and he got out of the car because [the carbon monoxide] was working and he got scared.  I told him to get back in.”

In a text message sent 11 days before his death, Roy suggested he and Carter die by suicide together “like Romeo and Juliet”

According to prosecutors, Carter pretended to not know anything about Roy’s suicide when he initially went missing.  She allegedly texted Roy’s sister, “Do you know where you brother is?” after his death.

 

Defense attorney Joseph Cataldo told the court in August that his client was “brainwashed” by Roy, who “ultimately persuaded a young, impressionable girl,” to endorse his plan of suicide.”  In a text message sent 11 days before his death, Roy suggested he and Carter die by suicide together “like Romeo and Juliet”, Caltado said, according to South Coast Today.  The attorney said the teens only met in person once or twice over two years, but shared “thousands of and thousands of text messages.”  Cataldo further contends that this was Roy’s plan. “He is someone who caused his own death. Michelle Carter’s role in this is words.”

Carter continued to deny the role she played in guiding Roy’s suicide, telling police thought nothing of their phones disconnecting the day of Roy’s death.  Yet on July 21, 2014, Carter sent a text to her friend after she spoke to Roy’s mother, who said the police would be looking at the boy’s cellphone.

“It’s something [cops] have to do with suicides and homicides and [Roy’s mother] said they have to go through his phone and see if anyone encouraged him to do it on text and stuff,” she told her friend. “[If] they read my messages with him I’m done. His family will hate me and I can go to jail.”

In the weeks before his death Roy was excited about graduating from high school and receiving his sea captain’s license

Roy had a history of depression and had previously attempted suicide a couple of years earlier, taking an overdose of the painkiller acetaminophen.

After this suicide attempt, Roy spent time in a psychiatric hospital and received counseling, said his aunt, Becky Maki, to The Associated Press.  She also said that in the weeks before his death he was excited about graduating from high school and receiving his sea captain’s license.

“He did not have the signs of someone who was considering that,” said Maki.  Roy and Carter met in 2012 while both were visiting relatives in Florida.  They lived about 50 miles apart in Massachusetts and had not seen each other in about a year when Roy passed away.  They kept in contact through texts and emails.

The major question will be whether the prosecution can prove that Carter caused Roy to kill himself through suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning, and that Roy would not have done so if Carter had not been involved

Carter had been charged with involuntary manslaughter.  In Massachusetts, involuntary manslaughter is not defined by statutory law, but rather in common law, as pronounced by the state’s courts.

A person can be convicted of involuntary manslaughter if the prosecution can prove either that, (1) there was an unintentional killing caused by an act which constitutes such a disregard of the probable harmful consequences to another that it is found to be wanton or reckless; or (2) it was an unintentional killing resulting from a battery.

Here, prosecutors argue that the text messages between Roy and Carter support their claim that Carter caused her boyfriend’s death by “wantonly and recklessly” helping him poison himself.

It may have been a stretch for prosecutor’s to charge Carter with involuntary manslaughter according to some legal experts.  “Causation is going to be a vital part of this case,” said Daniel Medwed, a Northeastern University law professor to The Associated Press.

The major question will be whether the prosecution can prove that Carter caused Roy to kill himself through suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning, and that Roy would not have done so if Carter had not been involved.  To answer this, prosecutors point to a text Carter sent to a friend of Roy’s death.  “…his death is my fault like honestly I could have stopped him I was on the phone with him and he got out of the car because it was working and he got scared and I told him to get back in,” Carter wrote.

Massachusetts does not have a law against assisted suicide, therefore the state must prove that Carter did not merely assist Roy in his suicide, but was rather the key to it taking place.  If the prosecution cannot prove that Roy would not have gone through with the suicide without Carter’s insistence, they may have a problem.

The defense argues that Carter’s texts amount to speech protected by the First Amendment.  He further says it is clear that from the messages that Roy had made up his mind to take his own life and therefore, Carter did not cause his death.

“He got the generator, he devised the plan and he had to find a spot.  He parked, he had to get the gas for the generator, he had to turn the generator on, he had to sit in that car for a long period of time.  He caused his own death,” Cataldo said.  He thought it out.  He wanted to take his own life.  It’s sad, but it’s not manslaughter.”

Carter’s next court date is October 2, 2015.  It appears that her text messages, with Roy and friends, will play a key role in whether she if found guilty of manslaughter in the death of the boy she called the love of her life.

Hannah Emory, Associate Editor
About Hannah Emory, Associate Editor (15 Articles)
Hannah Emory is a Campbell Law graduate and served as an Associate Editor for the Campbell Law Observer for the 2015-2016 academic year. She is originally from Dunn, North Carolina and graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2013 with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and History. Following her first year of law school, Hannah interned at the North Carolina Office of the Juvenile Defender.
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