Can you commit manslaughter by sending texts? We’re about to find out

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Enlarge / Michelle Carter faces involuntary manslaughter charges for texts prosecutors say encouraged a 17-year-old boy to commit suicide.

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An involuntary manslaughter trial began Tuesday for a Massachusetts woman who as a teen texted her boyfriend and urged him to commit suicide.

The woman, Michelle Carter, faces a maximum 20-year prison term if convicted at a bench trial in Bristol County. Attorneys for Carter, who was 18 at the time of the texts, had tried to fend off the charges, saying her texts to 17-year-old Conrad Roy were protected speech under the First Amendment. The state’s top court, the Supreme Judicial Court, set no line in the sand on when speech loses its constitutional protection. Instead, the court upheld the indictment for involuntary manslaughter on “the basis of words alone.”

evidence show Carter urging the boy, who was battling with depression, to carry out what he had been contemplating.

“You already made this decision and if you don’t do it tonight you’re gonna be thinking about it all the time and stuff all the rest of your life and be miserable. You’re finally going to be happy in heaven,” one of the texts read. Another said, “All you have to do is turn on the generator and you will be free and happy.”

The texts continue:

Carter: You can’t think about it. You just have to do it. You said you were gonna do it. Like I don’t get why you aren’t.
Roy: I don’t get it either. I don’t know.
Carter: So I guess you aren’t gonna do it then.
All that for nothing. I’m just confused. Like you were so ready and determined.
Roy: I am gonna eventually. I really don’t know what I’m waiting for but I have everything lined up.

After the boy’s death, Carter texted a friend to say, “If they read my text messages, I’m done.”

The defense consented to a non-jury trial, meaning Judge Lawrence Moniz will act as judge and jury.

In an opening statement Tuesday, Assistant District Attorney Maryclare Flynn told the judge that Carter “used Conrad as a pawn,” local media outlets report.


Defense attorney Joseph Cataldo said that the boy had tapped Carter to help him carry out his mission to commit suicide. He wasn’t cajoling her, Cataldo said.

“The evidence of the texting is overwhelming that Conrad Roy was on the path of taking his own life for years,” Cataldo said.

The defense also introduced texts between the two that noted Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

Roy: We should be like Romeo and Juliet at the end.

Carter: I’d like to be your Juliet.

Roy: You know what happens in the end, right?

Carter: Oh—no, we’re not dying.

Carter’s mother, Lynn Roy, took the stand later in the day, as did a police officer.

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