EDITOR'S NOTE: The text messages printed in this story contain graphic language, which some readers may find disturbing.
BOSTON - Michelle Carter will go to jail for her part in the death of her boyfriend Conrad Roy III, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has ruled.
In an opinion posted to the SJC website Wednesday morning, the SJC affirmed the ruling of Judge Lawrence Moniz that Carter can be held responsible for the death of Roy -- rejecting her appeal.
"The evidence against the defendant proved that, by her wanton or reckless conduct, she caused the victim's death by suicide. Her conviction of involuntary manslaughter as a youthful offender is not legally or constitutionally infirm," The SJC wrote. "The judgment is therefore affirmed."
The Supreme Judicial Court further condemned Carter for the text messages she sent, even suggesting that she may have been responsible above and beyond the evidence Judge Moniz cited in his decision.
The case, which saw the law of involuntary manslaughter applied to suicide, could potentially set a new precedent for the way the law is applied to speech.
Michelle Carter told her friends she “heard him die,” according to court documents.
That’s part of the evidence Judge Moniz used to convict Carter and the SJC affirmed that evidence is the crux of her conviction.
"The vulnerable, confused, mentally ill, eighteen year old victim had managed to save himself once again in the midst of his latest suicide attempt, removing himself from the truck as it filled with carbon monoxide. But then in this weakened state he was badgered back into the gas-infused truck by the defendant, his girlfriend and closest, if not only, confidant in this suicidal planning, the person who had been constantly pressuring him to complete their often discussed plan, fulfill his promise to her, and finally commit suicide. And then after she convinced him to get back into the carbon monoxide filled truck, she did absolutely nothing to help him: she did not call for help or tell him to get out of the truck as she listened to him choke and die."
Judge Moniz explained his decision to Carter in open court last year, mentioning a few legal precedents used to hold her responsible for Roy’s death. But it was the evidence contained in text messages between Carter and her friends that he said was what ultimately condemned her -- in his opinion.
Two months after Roy died of carbon monoxide poisoning from sitting in his truck with a running motor pump, Carter sent a text message to a friend explaining she believed herself to be responsible for his 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 fucking told him to get back in,” Carter wrote on Sept. 15, 2014.
Both the prosecuting attorneys and Judge Moniz pointed to that statement as the moment Carter became responsible for Roy’s death.
The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the decision made by Judge Moniz, further indicating the full statement she made to friends:
"I failed [the victim] I wasn't supposed to let that happen and now I'm realizing I failed him. [H]is 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 fucking told him to get back in . . . because I knew he would do it all over again the next day and I couldn't have him live the way he was living anymore I couldn't do it I wouldn't let him."
"It is true that a conviction cannot be based solely on the defendant's extrajudicial confession," the SJC opinion notes after republishing the previous message. "The defendant's statement, however, was not uncorroborated [as she had argued.]"
According to this ruling, the corroboration of her statement is simply that Conrad Roy died. When he was found dead, the SJC writes, that corroborated her later statements that she "told him to get back in" and that she "heard him die."
"The defendant's statement was more than adequately corroborated not only by the victim's death but also by text messages exchanged with the victim encouraging him to commit suicide," The SJC wrote.
In that paragraph of the opinion, the SJC seems to indicate the text messages exchanged between Carter and Roy further implicate her in his death because of her repeated urging that he should kill himself.
"In sum, the judge was entitled to credit the defendant's statement, and the corroborating details, that the victim had in fact gotten out of the truck and that the defendant ordered him back into the truck, ultimately causing his death," the SJC wrote.
"Carter is the first person ever convicted, anywhere, in such unusual circumstances," her attorneys argued in their appellate brief submitted to the SJC. "If this Court affirms, Massachusetts would be the only state to uphold an involuntary manslaughter conviction where an absent defendant, with words alone, encouraged another person to commit suicide."
As Moniz explained in court, Roy had conducted extensive research on his own, bought the generator and parked his truck. But according to Carter’s text, Roy got out of the truck when he started to sense the carbon monoxide poisoning.
"He literally sought fresh air," Judge Moniz said, referring to Roy's previously unsuccessful attempts to commit suicide. Moniz said Roy had shown a pattern of choosing to live rather than follow through.
If Carter’s text is to be believed, she was on the phone with him when he died, meaning she knew what was happening to him and, in Moniz’s opinion, should have done something to stop him.
“Miss Carter knows – by her own admission – that Mr. Roy has followed her instructions,” Moniz said. “As she indicates in various text messages subsequently created to some of her friends, she indicates that she can hear him coughing and she can hear the loud noise of the motor.”
Moniz explained he couldn’t lean solely on one instance of Carter’s testimony and cited a number of other messages sent to other friends.
“The court notes that I looked for independent corroboration of some of the statements that Miss Carter made to make sure that there was no undue reliance on any one source of evidence,” said Moniz.
In text messages dated around July 12 – the date of Roy’s suicide – Carter tells other friends she spoke with him on the phone and may have known what was going on. Messages between Carter and Roy indicate she indeed knew what he was doing.
“He called me and I heard like muffled sounds and some type of motor running and it was like that for 20 mins and he wouldn't answer. I think he killed himself,” Carter said in a message to a friend.
It was a series of messages like that, which Moniz used to convict her of manslaughter -- a decision that has been criticized by free speech advocates.
But the big question -- of whether or not a person can legally cause the suicide of another -- has already been asked and answered.
The SJC ruled on that when it first allowed her case to go to trial.
“The big question has already been answered and the question now is whether this set of facts is enough for that finding,” Suffolk University Law Professor Rosanna Cavallaro said.
Professor Cavallaro explained the indictment was upheld by the SJC, signifying the possiblity that another person could legally cause the suicide of another person.
She says this appeal will be dependent largely on whether or not the prosecutors on Carter's case proved that she was legally responsible for Roy's death.
The ACLU's Massachusetts chapter said in a statement at the time, the conviction "exceeds the limits of our criminal laws and violates free speech protections guaranteed by the Massachusetts and U.S. Constitutions."
Legal experts have argued the case could set a precedent in the digital age for holding people responsible for crimes simply by the things they say.
Judge Moniz pointed to Carter’s “failure to act,” alongside her statements urging Roy to follow through with his planned suicide.
The SJC, in its ruling, affirmed Moniz's decision, noting her "pressuring text messages and phone calls, preying upon well-known weaknesses, fears, anxieties and promises ... finally overcame the willpower to live of a mentally ill, vulnerable, young person, thereby coercing him to commit suicide."
The SJC ruling further highlights the messages she sent to him throughout the day as supporting evidence that she caused his death.
"I can inform you all that our next step in this matter is to file a motion to the juvenile court requesting that the stay of sentence be revoked and the jail sentence be imposed. We will be filing our motion with the court in the coming days," Bristol County District Attorney Thomas Quinn said in a statement.
You can read the full ruling here.
*If you or someone you know is struggling, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255.*
Message sent 9/15/14 8:24 p.m. to Friend #4:
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 fucking told him to get back in *** because I knew he would do it all over again the next day and I couldnt have him live the way he was living anymore I couldnt do it I wouldnt let him. And therapy didnt help him and I wanted him to go to McLean with me when I went but he would go in the other department for his issues but he didnt wanna go because he said nothing they would do or say would help him or change the way he feels. So I like started giving up because nothing I did was helping and but I should of tried harder like I should of did more and its all my fault because I could of stopped him but I fucking didnt all I had to say was I love you dont do this one more time and hed still be here and he told me he would give me signs to know he is watching over me but I havent seen any and I just idk I'm sorry about this rant I just needed to get that off my chest and its finally all sinking in
Text messages sent to and from Michelle Carter on the day of Roy's death
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