Manslaughter conviction upheld for woman who goaded boyfriend into suicide

Michelle Carter urged Conrad Roy ‘get back in’ car filled with carbon monoxide fumes

Michelle Carter (centre) is escorted into the Taunton District Court in Taunton, Massachusetts for her sentencing hearing on August  3rd 2017 Photograph: Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe/Getty

Michelle Carter (centre) is escorted into the Taunton District Court in Taunton, Massachusetts for her sentencing hearing on August 3rd 2017 Photograph: Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe/Getty

 

A top court in the US state of Massachusetts has upheld a woman’s conviction for manslaughter for goading her teenage boyfriend into suicide with a series of text messages in 2014, in a case that drew national attention to cyber-bullying.

On Wednesday, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court agreed with a lower court’s ruling on Michelle Carter, who prosecutors said urged her 18-year-old boyfriend, Conrad Roy, to take his own life in a parking lot about 100 km south of Boston.

Carter’s 2017 trial highlighted the dangers of cyber bullying and raised concerns among civil liberties advocates who argued the judge overreached by finding Carter guilty for her speech.

Her lawyers called the case unprecedented in the US.

Carter (22) was 17 when Roy took his own life by filling his parked truck in Fairhaven, Massachusetts, with carbon monoxide from a generator he had hooked up to it.

Prosecutors at trial presented evidence showing that Roy briefly left the vehicle after he began to be overwhelmed by the fumes but returned after Carter urged him to “get back in”.

Michelle Carter cries after being found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the suicide of Conrad Roy on June 16th, 2017 in Bristol Juvenile Court in Taunton, Massachusetts Photograph: Glenn C Silva/Fairhaven Neighborhood News/Pool/AP
Michelle Carter cries after being found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the suicide of Conrad Roy on June 16th, 2017 in Bristol Juvenile Court in Taunton, Massachusetts Photograph: Glenn C Silva/Fairhaven Neighborhood News/Pool/AP

First Amendment defence

Carter opted against a jury trial, leaving her fate in the hands of Bristol County Juvenile Court Judge Lawrence Moniz, who found her guilty of involuntary manslaughter in June 2017.

The judge subsequently ordered her to serve 15 months of a 2½ year prison sentence.

Her sentence has been on hold while the state’s top court considered her appeal.

Justice Scott Kafker wrote that the evidence presented at trial was sufficient to support her conviction.

He said her arguments that her texts to Roy amounted to speech protected by the US Constitution’s First Amendment “lack merit”.

“The evidence against the defendant proved that, by her wanton or reckless conduct, she caused the victim’s death by suicide,” Kafker wrote for the unanimous seven-member court.

Prosecutors and defence attorneys did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the ruling. – Reuters