Are words a murder weapon? Inside the Michelle Carter texts
The old adage goes that the pen is mightier than the sword. That became chillingly clear when Conrad Roy killed himself after being bombarded with texts from his girlfriend, Michelle Carter. The “texting suicide case” as it’s become known is another in a long line of cases where harassment either by an individual or a group has led to a person killing themselves.
The suicides of Megan Meier and Phoebe Prince have left their own marks, the suicide of Conrad Roy is its own unique tragedy. Many feel that the outcome, Carter’s conviction of involuntary manslaughter, was the best that could be achieved. Here’s the story of Michelle Carter, her text messages, and the suicide of Conrad Roy.
Michelle Carter and Conrad Roy were not mentally well, not entirely. Roy had attempted suicide twice before, having struggled with depression and social anxiety for most of his life. Despite this, Roy worked in his family’s marine salvage business, was an athletic star at high school, and graduated with a 3.88 GPA. He was accepted into college, but decided not to go.
Carter developed an eating disorder at age 8 or 9, reportedly cut herself, and was on psychiatric medication by age 14. She also suffered from depression. The two met on separate family vacations in 2012 in Florida. They lived about 35 miles away from each other in Massachusetts, but their romance was largely conducted online.
Carter said that she talked down Roy several times from committing suicide previously. Eventually, she believed that maybe Roy would be better off if he died.
So she began to encourage him to kill himself via text messages. There were a lot of them too. Carter would tell Roy to get it over with and that his family would be happier after he was gone. Roy would tell her about his fantasy of them being Romeo and Juliet, that Carter would carry his baby after he was dead.
On Sunday, July 13, 2014, Conrad Roy parked into a Kmart parking lot and filled his truck up with carbon monoxide, killing himself. Roy apparently tried to back out once, but Carter, on the phone with him, told him to get back into the truck. Roy did. Roy was 18 at the time of his death.
“Just do it babe”
It didn’t take police long to find the text messages that Carter and Roy exchanged. They were shocked at the encouragement for Roy to end his life. Rather than the case being a suicide, the officers started to wonder if a crime had been committed using only words. Carter was indicted on Feb. 4, 2015, for involuntary manslaughter. She was charged as a “youthful offender”, meaning that she could get some adult jail time.
Rather than have a jury trial, Carter opted for a bench trial meaning that it was just the judge, Lawrence Moniz, who would decide on Carter’s innocence or guilt in the case.
The prosecution’s theory of the case was that Carter wanted to boost her social media cache by having her boyfriend commit suicide. While Roy was thinking Shakespeare for their tragic love story, Carter was thinking Glee, making her and Roy the Lea Michele and Cory Monteith of their own tragedy.
The defense had to admit to the veracity of the evidence. Carter wrote the texts, told Roy how to go through with his plan, and encouraged him. It was there in black and white. They argued that the prosecution cherry-picked the texts to share, leaving out the ones where Carter talked Roy off the ledge. They said that nothing Carter could do would stop Roy, but the judge disagreed there.
Notably, for the judge, it was Carter’s confession that she told Roy, who wanted to back out at one point, to get back into the truck that really nailed it. As Carter wrote to her friend Sam Boardman:
“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.
In 2017, Carter was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter by Judge Moniz, who sentenced Carter to two-and-a-half years in prison. The decision was appealed and the verdict upheld, though Carter did get a sentence reduction. She served 15 months in prison and was sentenced to five years of probation.
Carter has served her time and was released in Jan. 2020.
The case is considered to be precedent-setting. Some worry about the implications that the conviction would have on terms of free speech. While others think that the move is meant to show that there are real-world consequences to your behavior behind the screen.
Katie Rayburn, assistant district attorney, said, “People fall in love on the internet and via text, people bully via text and the internet, and you can encourage someone to die via text.”
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