In an unprecedented move, a Massachusetts judge decided that Michelle Carter is guilty of manslaughter in the 2014 suicide of her boyfriend, Conrad Roy III. In his decision, Bristol County Juvenile Court Judge Lawrence Moniz said that Michelle admitted that she did not call the police or his parents when he was dying in the truck “and finally, she did not issue a simple additional instruction: Get out of the truck.” Judge Moniz also described Ms. Carter’s conduct as immoral.
First, let’s go over the case. Michelle Carter and Conrad Roy III were dating in 2014; Michelle was 17 and Conrad 18. Like most teenage couples, they texted each other about everything. At some point, though, they started talking about Conrad’s suicidal thoughts. In a series of detailed text messages, Conrad and Michelle discuss when and how Conrad is going to commit suicide. They even talked about getting a portable generator that emitted carbon monoxide, which is eventually how he killed himself. Conrad committed suicide on July 12, 2014 in a parking lot. Later, Michelle’s texts to Conrad encouraging him to do it (“You just need to do it Conrad or I’m gonna get you help” and “if you don’t do it now you’re never gonna do it”) came to light.
There is no question that this was a tragedy for all involved, especially Mr. Roy, his family and friends. However, this brings up a lot of questions that may change the course of criminal liability. Can someone be held legally responsible for someone else’s suicide? If someone knows that another individual plans to commit suicide, or is with them when they choose to do so, what duty do they have to call the police? Should words have been enough to convict Ms. Carter of involuntary manslaughter? The answer, frankly, is yes.
Let’s look at what the law currently says about suicide. Usually, it is considered an act of free will by the individual committing it, and Massachusetts does not have a law against encouraging suicide. However, Judge Moniz said he based his decision on Michelle’s actions after Conrad first got into the car. Conrad called Michelle while he was in the car and told her that he was having doubts. According to the prosecutor, Michelle convinced him to get back into the car and keep going with the suicide. In Judge Moriz’s eyes, Conrad “[broke] that chain of self-causation by exiting the vehicle . . . This court finds that instructing Mr. Roy to get back in the truck constituted wanton and reckless conduct, by Ms. Carter creating situation where there is a high degree of likelihood that substantial harm will result to Mr. Roy.”
Ms. Carter knew Conrad wanted to die. She knew when and she knew how. She spoke to him while he was in the car with the carbon monoxide running and convinced him to get back in, which she knew would probably kill him. Physically she wasn’t present, but mentally and emotionally she was guiding Conrad’s hand the entire time. Her conduct went beyond careless or harsh words to a high school boyfriend. Ms. Roy intentionally encouraged Conrad to commit suicide, knowing how much influence she had. She did not stop him and she did not call for help, even though she had a duty to do so.
From the legal perspective, it will be interesting to see what changes, if any, result from this case. On a personal level, suicide is a serious issue and should not be taken lightly. If you, a friend, or a loved one needs help, LauraLaw suggests a few resources: