Mass. Highest Court Hears Case of Teen Who Sent Boyfriend Texts Urging Suicide

Michelle Carter is awaiting trial in the 2014 death of Conrad Roy III

Conrad Roy Michelle Carter
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Dozens of text messages that a teenage girl sent to her boyfriend that encouraged him to kill himself were just words and do not constitute a crime, her lawyer told the state's highest court Thursday.

But a prosecutor argued that Michelle Carter pressured Conrad Roy III for weeks to end his life and engaged in "emotional manipulation" of a vulnerable teen who had struggled with depression and previously attempted suicide.

The Supreme Judicial Court heard arguments in Carter's appeal of a juvenile court judge's refusal to dismiss the manslaughter charge stemming from Roy's 2014 death.

The justices made it clear they were struggling with whether Carter's actions met the definition of manslaughter, peppering both side with questions about exactly what she did to encourage or assist Roy's suicide.

Justice Robert Cordy questioned Assistant District Attorney Shoshana Stern about what he called the "$100,000 question" in the case: "When did this cross the line - when did these words cross the line?"

In addition to the many text messages encouraging Roy to kill himself, Stern said, Carter also spoke on the phone with him while he was in his truck inhaling carbon monoxide fumes.

When Roy got out of his truck, she told him to "get back in," Stern said.

"I think what we can say that we know is that she was way over the line when she told him to get back in the truck," Stern said.

But Carter's attorney Dana Curhan said Roy was determined to take his own life. He said Carter repeatedly tried to talk him out of it but finally gave up about two weeks before his death.

"Even when she said, 'get back in the truck,' that was not the proximate event that resulted in his death," Curhan said.

Roy got back in his truck and waited until the fumes overcame him, Curhan said.

"The undisputed evidence is that Mr. Roy inflicted the harm," Curhan said.

Carter was 17 and Roy was 18 when he died in 2014. They had met in Florida two years earlier while visiting relatives. They kept in touch mostly through texts and emails when they both returned to their homes in Massachusetts - about 50 miles apart. They hadn't seen each other in more than a year before Roy's death.

"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," Carter wrote to Roy the day of his death.

Roy's body was found in his pickup truck in Fairhaven. Police found a gasoline-operated water pump in the back seat.

Carter was charged as a youthful offender, which makes her eligible for a sentence of up to 20 years in prison if convicted of manslaughter.

Attorney Joseph Cataldo, who also represents Carter, said after the hearing that prosecutors are attempting to criminalize Carter's free speech in the case when there is no law against encouraging or assisting suicide in Massachusetts. Thirty-nine states have such laws.

"It's not a case that should have even been brought," Cataldo said.

The court gave no indication on when it would rule.

Here are excerpts from Carter and Roy's text exchanges, with messages cited by her lawyer first, followed by those cited by prosecutors:

June 29, 2014

Carter: "But the mental hospital would help you. I know you don't think it would but I'm telling you, if you give them a chance, they can save your life"

Carter: "Part of me wants you to try something and fail just so you can get help"

Roy: "It doesn't help. trust me"

Carter: "So what are you gonna do then? Keep being all talk and no action and everyday go thru saying how badly you wanna kill yourself? Or are you gonna try to get better?"

Roy: "I can't get better I already made my decision."

July 7, 2014

Roy: "if you were in my position. honestly what would you do"

Carter: "I would get help. That's just me tho. When I have a serious problem like that, my first instinct is to get help because I know I can't do it on my own"

Roy: "Well it's too late I already gave up."

Between July 6, 2014, and July 12, 2014

Carter: "Always smile, and yeah, you have to just do it. You have everything you need. There is no way you can fail. Tonight is the night. It's now or never."

Carter: "(D)on't be scared. 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. No more pain. No more bad thoughts and worries. You'll be free."

Carter: "I just want to make sure you're being serious. Like I know you are, but I don't know. You always say you're gonna do it, but you never do. I just want to make sure tonight is the real thing."

Carter: "When are you gonna do it? Stop ignoring the question"

Carter: "You can't keep living this way. You just need to do it like you did the last time and not think about it and just do it, babe. You can't keep doing this every day.

Roy: "I do want to but I'm like freaking for my family I guess. I don't know."

Carter: "Conrad, I told you I'll take care of them. Everyone will take care of them to make sure they won't be alone and people will help them get through it. We talked about this and they will be okay and accept it. People who commit suicide don't think this much. They just could do it."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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