Michelle Carter repeatedly texted her boyfriend, Conrad Roy, that he should kill himself. Her conviction could set a dangerous legal precedent.
Michelle Carter and Conrad Roy had a peculiar relationship. Though the couple only lived an hour apart, the two teens mainly communicated digitally. They met face to face a handful of times during their two-year relationship, but the rest of their encounters were relegated to text message, email, and phone calls.
Roy had been suffering from depression when he met Carter in February 2012 while both were vacationing in Florida with their families. He was 16, she 15. Roy seemed to find solace in dating Carter — he could rely on her to listen, and she never discouraged him from expressing his true thoughts. They bonded over their shared depression, and stayed in contact after that.
Perhaps, in retrospect, they maintained too much contact.
Carter would soon inform Roy of painless ways to commit suicide, and teach him via text message how to fill a car with carbon monoxide.
On July 13, 2014, police found the body of Conrad Roy III in his pickup truck. It was parked outside of a Kmart in Fairhaven, Massachusetts. It might have looked like a cut-and-dry suicide case — until they looked at Roy’s phone.
The couple’s text message exchange was littered with countless instances of Carter urging Roy to kill himself. In the few short weeks leading to his death, she kindly harassed him to get it over with — that his family would be sad but quickly face facts and lead a happy life.
In February 2015, Carter was indicted on charges of involuntary manslaughter. Her subsequent trial was a media spectacle of monumental proportions — and ended with Carter being sentenced to 20 months in prison.
This bizarre tale of one depressed teen desperately trying to get her suicidal boyfriend to do the deed is now set to be explored in-depth in the HBO documentary, I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth v. Michelle Carter.
How guilty can someone be of manslaughter for sending text messages? And how far does the right to free speech extend? Does telling someone they should kill themselves make one guilty of a crime? Let’s take a look.
Love At First Sight: Conrad Roy Meets Michelle Carter
When the Fairhaven police found Conrad Roy’s body and discovered the text messages on his phone, they were stunned at the “constant encouragement to take his life.” They’d never seen anything like it, and the digital evidence immediately shifted their investigation from a mere suicide to a potential crime.
According to The Daily Beast, the officers couldn’t help but wonder if Roy would still be alive if he’d never met the Carter contact saved on his phone.
But, for a time at least, Roy’s and Carter’s relationship seemed like a positive thing.
From inside jokes to endearingly transparent conversations about painful feelings and emotions, it was easy to see why someone as socially anxious and depressed as Roy would cherish his relationship.
Both sincerely revealed how much they meant to each other, and were always there to support each other — until one party began to bully the other into ending his life.
According to the case’s prosecutors, Carter wanted her boyfriend Roy to kill himself so the social media universe would feel sorry for her. In a world governed by “likes,” one man’s suicide could — perhaps — make his girlfriend a star.
The HBO documentary gives this angle a fair amount of credence. One reporter mentions Carter’s obsession with the television show Glee and the death of its star, Cory Monteith. Carter even used similar language that Monteith’s real-life girlfriend, Lea Michele, used to mourn him.
Roy, however wasn’t completely innocent of creating these romantic fantasies rooted in tragedy. In text messages, they talked about being each other’s Romeo and Juliet. They even fantasized about the child Carter would have after Roy died — a child she would name after him.
For psychiatrist Dr. Peter Breggin, at least, both parties were at fault — it just so happened that one of them had to die in order for the shared fantasy to bear fruit.
“I would love to be your Juliet :).” — Michelle Carter to Conrad Roy III via text message.
Carter was “involuntarily intoxicated” by antidepressants, he argued. “She’s clearly out of her mind and so is he,” he stated bluntly.
During her trial, evidence indicating her “failure to act,” as the judge put it, kept piling up. But the courtroom was also confronted with a variety of complex ethical questions, rooted in free speech and the definition of manslaughter. Were Carter’s suggestions tantamount to killing somebody?
Michelle Carter’s Text Messages And Trial
“I think your parents know you’re in a really bad place. I’m not saying they want you to do it but I honestly feel like they can except it. They know there’s nothing they can do, they’ve tried helping, everyone’s tried. But there’s a point that comes where there isn’t anything anyone can do to save you, not even yourself, and you’ve hit that point and I think your parents know you’ve hit that point. You said you’re mom saw a suicide thing on your computer and she didn’t say anything. I think she knows it’s on your mind, and she’s prepared for it….Everyone will be sad for a while, but they will get over it and move on. They won’t be in depression I won’t let that happen. They know how sad you are and they know that you’re doing this to be happy, and I think they will understand and accept it. They’ll always carry u in their hearts.” — Michelle Carter to Conrad Roy III via text message. July 11, 2014. 6:59 p.m.
That was just one of the many messages Michelle Carter sent her boyfriend, Conrad Roy, in the weeks preceding his death. Though the defense admitted to the veracity of the evidence, it argued that the prosecution “cherry-picked” which texts to present in court and which ones to leave out.
Carter’s lawyers claimed messages that showed the teen urging her boyfriend to seek professional help were conveniently abandoned for the more salacious ones that fit their narrative. On the other hand, it’s difficult to persuade a judge (Carter waived her right to a jury trial) that step-by-step instructions on how to kill yourself aren’t clear enough to argue she wanted him to do so.
“Yeah, it will work. If you emit 3200ppm of it for 5 to 10 mins, you’ll die within a half hour. You lose consciousness with no pain, you just fall asleep and die. You can also just take a hose and run that from the exhaust pipe to the window in your car and seal it with duct tape and shirts, so it can’t escape…you’ll die within like 20 or 30 mins, all pain free.” — Michelle Carter to Conrad Roy III via text message. July 6, 2014. 5:11 p.m.
The slew of troubling messages sent by Carter (all of which can be found here) were enough to convince the court that she lent Roy a proverbial hand in his suicide.
“You keep pushing it off and you say you’ll do it but u never do. Its always gonna be that way if u don’t take action.” — Michelle Carter to Conrad Roy III via text message. July 12, 2014. 4:28 a.m.
Carter’s lawyer argued that nothing she could have done would have stopped Roy from killing himself — which the judge strongly disagreed with. The judge said she had a “duty to alleviate the risk,” at the very least, and that her failure to engage in that responsibility “caused the death of Mr. Roy.”
Most notable for the judge was the fact that Carter reprimanded Roy to get back in his car when it was filling with carbon monoxide. He had reconsidered the irrevocable choice, but followed his girlfriend’s orders to go through with it. His life was essentially in her hands, and she told him to end it.
“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 fucking told him to get back in Sam 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.” – Michelle Carter to Sam Boardman via text message. September 15, 2014. 8:24 p.m.
“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,” Supreme Judicial Court Justice Scott Kafker noted in the court’s opinion supporting Carter’s conviction.
On June 16, 2017, a judge found 20-year-old Carter guilty of involuntary manslaughter. She was initially sentenced to two and a half years in prison; that sentence was later reduced to 15 months. It had been nearly three years since Roy’s death.
The judge did allow her to remain free while she appealed the court’s decision, but in February of this year, Massachusetts’ highest court upheld her original conviction. Carter’s lawyer tried once more to extend her tenuous period of freedom, as he wanted to take her case to the U.S. Supreme Court. Their filing deadline is July 8.
Her attorneys painted the picture of someone who had no prior criminal record, never tried to evade the law, and was currently getting mental health treatment. Though all factually correct, the judge ruled that Carter was to commence her sentence immediately.
She was taken into custody on Feb. 11, 2019, and sent to the medical unit of the Bristol County House of Correction in Dartmouth overnight, before being placed in the prison’s general population.
The Roy Family On Carter’s Trial And Verdict
“It’s been four and a half years since Conrad passed. Our heart has been broken this whole time,” said Roy’s aunt, Becky Maki, after Carter began her jail sentence. “It’s been hard to live out the details of his death over and over again. It’s something that hasn’t left our mind….I hope that no one else ever has to feel this pain.”
“His life mattered. It mattered to us and I think it mattered to a lot of people. Conrad, we love you.”
Roy’s family was certainly satisfied with the eventual verdict and decision to send Carter to jail, but not everyone is as enthused about the precedent this may have set. Daniel Marx argued this case before the Supreme Judicial Court, and had some notable points to make.
Marx said the ruling on Carter’s case unfairly “stretches the law to assign blame for a tragedy that was not a crime.” His fundamental point was that sending somebody a text message — no matter how manipulative — should not equate to manslaughter.
“It has very troubling implications, for free speech, due process, and the exercise of prosecutorial discretion, that should concern us all,” he explained.
Of course, this particular case, seemed to have wrought a semblance of justice for those in mourning.
“We’re happy that this is the end of the process,” said Maki. “This is a day that we’ve been looking forward to. We hope that no one else ever has to feel this pain.”
But the public’s processing of this case is still underway. Carter’s lawyers may argue her case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court as early as this fall. And before then, HBO is premiering a new two-part documentary.
I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth v. Michelle Carter
Helmed by Erin Lee Carr, HBO’s upcoming documentary about the Michelle Carter texting suicide case includes a host of real footage from the courtroom, as well as interviews with legal experts and investigators.
Carr’s project will raise some of the difficult questions Carter’s lawyers raised during her trial and appeals process. How responsible is this generation for the impact they can have with their phones? Can one teenager be responsible for the suicide of another?
“With Michelle Carter, it’s not just about a girl texting her boyfriend,” Carr told Marie Claire. “It’s about, how do we care for each other? If or when are we responsible for another person’s safety?”
Carr, herself, realized amid the frenzy of Carter’s trial that there was a deeper, more nuanced story at the heart of it. She felt unconvinced at the simplified nature of a crazy girlfriend purposefully being cruel to her partner.
“Honestly, it never felt right to me,” said Carr. “I always knew there was going to be a complicated answer to why somebody would text somebody like this. It was just a process of investigating. I did not understand the prosecutor’s narrative of Michelle Carter having this young man kill himself for her to get popular.”
“I just don’t buy that.”
The documentary premiered at the South By South West festival in March, and has already garnered positive reviews. For Carr, this documentary was created with a reassessment in mind — one that can only occur with enough distance, and time.
“I wanted this film — and it’s literally structured like this — to act as a jury for this case,” said Carr. “You have the prosecutor side of the story, that’s episode one. And you have the defense side of the story, which is episode two.”
I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth v. Michelle Carter is set to air on July 9 and 10 on HBO.
After reading the disturbing story of the Michelle Carter texting suicide case, learn about how photojournalist Kevin Carter killed himself after witnessing the world’s tragedies. Then, read about the tragic story of Evelyn McHale and “the most beautiful suicide.”