Words can be used as weapons, however, they normally can’t cause any real, physical harm. Recently, however, a Massachusetts judge decided that words can cause bodily harm, and should be punished accordingly.
In 2014, a Massachusetts teenager was charged with committing a crime after police discovered her role in her boyfriend’s tragic death. Even though she was miles from the crime scene, a judge still ruled she was responsible because of what she said in the minutes before it happened.
A Tragic Discovery
On July 13, 2014, authorities in Fairhaven, Massachusetts discovered the body of an 18-year-old boy who had been reported missing by his mother in a pickup truck parked outside a Kmart. According to the police who discovered him, the teen appeared to have committed suicide.
Suicide by Carbon Monoxide
When the officers found the young man, it appeared he had killed himself by attaching a hose into the car from a portable generator. After turning the generator on, he got inside the vehicle and waited to die. Before long, the cabin filled with carbon monoxide and fatally poisoned him.
Breaking The News
After finding 18-year-old Conrad Roy III, the police contacted his family who had been anxiously waiting for any news about him. The evening before, Conrad’s family had called the police to report him missing after he failed to come home. Normally, that wouldn’t be cause for concern for other teenagers, but Conrad’s mother, Lynn, knew something was wrong.
Cause For Concern
Conrad had a history of depression and had previously tried to commit suicide. So when he never showed up at home, Lynn had a bad feeling that Conrad might be attempting to either harm himself or kill himself again. Unfortunately, she wasn’t wrong.
While Conrad had a history of depression and suicidal tendencies, Lynn was still devastated and shocked when the police called and broke the news. Before finding out what happened, Lynn truly believed Conrad had been making progress. He was getting help and seemed to be getting better.
The Last Day
“I thought he was doing great,” Lynn later said in a testimony. Just the day before, Lynn explained that she, Conrad, and his sisters had spent the day at Horseneck Beach in Westport, Massachusetts. He seemed better than he had in the past.
A Bright Future
Not only did Conrad seem to be getting better, but he had a bright future ahead of him. He always wanted to be a tugboat captain and had been accepted to Fitchburg State University. After graduating from high school, he planned to study business at the school in the fall.
An Open And Shut Case
Despite having so much to look forward to, Conrad tragically still decided to end his life. While it was sad that he felt he needed to end his life to end his suffering, it seemed like an open and shut case from the police’s perspective. However, they soon realized the case wasn’t as simple as they first believed.
The Concerning Messages
While looking through Conrad’s phone, the police discovered thousands of concerning messages. The texts were from a girl named Michelle Carter, who was 17 years old at the time. Based on the messages, it appeared she actually encouraged him to end his life.
The Long-Distance Girlfriend
The police later learned that Carter was Conrad’s girlfriend. The pair first met in Florida in 2012 while they were on vacation with their families. After their meeting, they kept in touch over the years. At the time of Conrad’s death, they were in a long distance relationship and only saw each other a couple of times since their first meeting despite living only 35 miles from each other in Massachusetts.
A Drastic Change
Based on their messages, police learned that Carter had attempted to dissuade Conrad from killing himself from 2012 to 2014. She tried to convince him to get professional help, but he wouldn’t listen. Then in July 2014, Carter’s attitude toward Conrad’s depression changed.
Encouraging His Suicide
Instead of dissuading him, she actually started to encourage Conrad. In the messages, Carter gave Conrad different ideas about how to kill himself and repeatedly told him that he had to go through with his plan. According to Sgt. Michael Bates, who read thousands of texts between the pair, Carter told Conrad to “take 10 benedryls and then wait 10 mins then take all the Tylenol.”
Helping With The Plan
She sent that message just a week before Conrad’s death. When he expressed fear about ending his life, she offered even more methods for him to try. “Hang yourself, jump off a building, stab yourself,” Carter told Conrad in a text message. Then Carter helped Conrad come up with his plan to use a portable generator to poison himself with carbon monoxide. The day of Conrad’s suicide, Carter pressured him and repeatedly asked him if he was finally going to go through with it.
Their Last Conversation
He told her he was finally ready, but when he actually put his plan into effect and was sitting waiting for the cabin to fill with the poisonous fumes, he started to have doubts. At one point, Conrad got out of the car and called Carter to tell her he was too scared to go through with it. Rather than tell him not to go through with it or call for help, Carter ordered Conrad to get back into the car. Then police found another text from Carter to a friend where she admitted to everything.
Admitting Her Guilt
“Sam 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 [expletive] told him to get back in,” Carter wrote in a text to friend Samantha Boardman. “I knew he would do it all over the next day and I couldn’t have him live the way he was living anymore,” Carter told Boardman. “I couldn’t do it. I wouldn’t let him. I should have did more and it’s all my fault because I could of stopped him but I [expletive] didn’t.”
A Fake Reaction
Yet in the wake of Conrad’s death, Carter pretended to be blindsided by the incident. “She never admitted to anyone in the Roy family that she had helped Conrad for weeks to devise a suicide plan, or that she was on the phone with Conrad and knew he committed suicide in the Kmart parking lot,” Assistant District Attorney Maryclare Flynn said in a statement after police charged Carter with involuntary manslaughter.
The police and the prosecutors argued that Carter intentionally pressured and used her influence over the mentally unwell young man. Her motive was to get attention and sympathy from everyone while pretending to be a grieving girlfriend. “The defendant needed something to get their attention,” Flynn said in her opening statement during the trial. “She used Conrad as a pawn in her sick game of life and death.”
Despite there not being a law in Massachusetts at the time that made it a crime to assist in another person’s suicide, Carter was found guilty by Judge Lawrence Moniz after she waived her right to a trial by jury. “Carter’s actions and also her failure to act where she had a self-created duty to Mr. Roy, since she had put him in that toxic environment, constituted each and all wanton and reckless conduct,” Moniz said during the trial. “She [instructed] Mr. Roy to get back into the truck, well-knowing of all of the feelings that he [had] exchanged with her: his ambiguities, his fears, his concerns.”
“She did nothing. She did not call the police or Mr. Roy’s family. Finally, she did not issue a simple additional instruction: ‘Get out of the truck,’” Moniz said in court. On June 17, 2017, Carter was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to 15 months in jail, which will begin after her appeal is resolved.
In 2018, Carter’s lawyers appealed the ruling in an attempt to reverse the decision as the texts were ‘cherry-picked’ to vilify her. “I am confident Michelle will be vindicated because I do not believe a law was broken and her words alone are not sufficient to establish a manslaughter,” Carter’s attorney, Joseph Cataldo, said after her conviction. “A lot of what has been reported thus far is that Michelle Carter always wanted to endorse Conrad Roy’s plan to kill himself. But it will be abundantly clear that for weeks prior to agreeing to his plan, she tried to talk him out of it, and he tried to get her to commit suicide with him,” Cataldo told People.