An involuntary manslaughter conviction turns cyberbullying from tragic to criminal

Michelle Carter, right, seated with her attorneys Cory Madera, left, and Joseph Cataldo reacts as she listens to Judge Lawrence Moniz before he finds her guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the suicide of Conrad Roy III, Friday, June 16, 2017, in Bristol Juvenile Court in Taunton, Mass. (Glenn C.Silva/Fairhaven Neighborhood News, Pool)

In a legal decision already being debated, a Massachusetts judge ruled today that a teenage girl who texted her boyfriend to follow through on his intent to kill himself was guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

The judge did not appear swayed by Michelle Carter’s age at the time, 17, or her own history of eating disorders, suicidal thoughts and social anxieties.

Carter’s conviction may be the most serious response to what is known as cyberbullying, the tormenting or teasing someone via social media. The guilty verdict raises questions about whether someone can goad or bully others to kill themselves and whether it can be done from afar. Because Carter was not with Conrad Roy when he killed himself in a parking lot in July of 2014 and was communicating with him via text message, legal experts expected an acquittal.

Troubled teens who met on a Florida vacation in 2012, Roy and Carter discovered they lived about an hour apart in Massachusetts. Their relationship largely existed online but they shared their personal struggles. According to court testimony, when Roy first mentioned suicide, Carter advised him to seek help but eventually endorsed his plan, assuring him, “everyone will be sad for a while but they will get over it and move on,” and advising him on how he might die,  “hang yourself, jump off a building, stab yourself idk there’s a lot of ways.”

But where Carter crossed a legal line was when she pushed, prodded and pressured Roy the night he died. As he was pumping carbon monoxide into the cab of his truck, the 18-year-old boy began to feel ill and got out of the vehicle. In messages, Carter admonished him, “Get back in.” “You just need to do it.”

Those exhortations persuaded Judge Lawrence Moniz of Bristol County Juvenile Court that Carter’s words played a key role in Roy’s suicide, saying of the victim, “He breaks that chain of self-causation by exiting the vehicle. He takes himself out of that toxic environment that it has become…She admits in subsequent texts that she did nothing, she did not call the police or Mr. Roy’s family. And finally, she did not issue a simple additional instruction: ‘Get out of the truck.’”

After Roy’s death, Carter presented herself  as the grieving girlfriend, according to witnesses. She organized a fundraiser in Roy’s honor and wrote on Facebook, Even though I could not save my boyfriend’s life, I want to put myself out there to try to save as many other lives as possible.”

Her attorneys argued Carter’s words should not be blamed for Roy’s death, that suicide is an act of free will.

In a statement tonight, Matthew Segal, legal director at the ACLU of Massachusetts, said, “Mr. Roy’s death is a terrible tragedy, but it is not a reason to stretch the boundaries of our criminal laws or abandon the protections of our constitution. There is no law in Massachusetts making it a crime to encourage someone, or even to persuade someone, to commit suicide. Yet Ms. Carter has now been convicted of manslaughter, based on the prosecution’s theory that, as a 17-year-old girl, she literally killed Mr. Roy with her words. This conviction exceeds the limits of our criminal laws and violates free speech protections guaranteed by the Massachusetts and U.S. Constitutions.”

While online bullying is widely condemned, it’s seldom treated as a serious crime. Another high-profile case of cyberbullying and its role in a youth suicide was also in the news recently.

In 2013, police in Polk County, Fla., charged two girls for aggravated stalking in connection with the suicide of a 12-year-old classmate, Rebecca Sedwick. After Rebecca jumped to her death from a silo, police learned about the girl’s stormy relationship with Katelyn Roman, 12, and Guadalupe Shaw, 14. After Rebecca’s death, Guadalupe posted, “Yes IK I bullied REBECCA nd she killed her self but IDGAF.”

The arrests of  the two young girls earned international attention, but the felony charges were dropped a month later. Then, Katelyn’s mother sued, maintaining her daughter’s rights were violated by the arrest. In May, a jury ruled against the family and said there was no violation of the girl’s rights.

The highly publicized 2010 suicide of 15-year-old Phoebe Prince of Massachusetts also led to felony charges against five of her classmates, but those charges were reduced to misdemeanors and probation.

Both Phoebe and Rebecca had grappled with depression before their suicides, as had Roy. But the judge did not seem to regard Roy’s history as a mitigating factor in the case against Carter.

Should it have been?

 

 

Reader Comments 0

84 comments
pidugot
pidugot

 In dynamic New York, just 15 percent of white understudies go to state funded schools . In dynamic Massachusetts the Louise Day Hicks/Kennedy main residence Southie state of mind is still as a result.


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Marty Middleton
Marty Middleton

She enjoyed having that control! He got out of the car and she talked him back in! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!

Tammi Jo Bryant
Tammi Jo Bryant

Good hope she dies in there a goes to hell \U0001f620\U0001f620\U0001f620\U0001f620

Michael Barnes
Michael Barnes

The left always preach the gospel that "words matter". Nice to see justice served.

Tika Boom
Tika Boom

She deserves the maximum sentence that the law allows. Plus, those were text messages, not internet posts.

Lana Schmaltz
Lana Schmaltz

What a POS....I hope she is tortured the whole time. Burn in hell.

Lee Hager
Lee Hager

She deserves everything she gets! Hopefully she will learn the hard way about bullying when a fellow prisoner takes a "liking" to her. She is one sick B***H!

Jessica Fisher
Jessica Fisher

This wasn't cyber bullying! He loved her he even said that in the texts, this was someone he trusted and loved not some random bully! She begged him to take his life.

Karl M Anderson
Karl M Anderson

This is a lot more then simple cyber bullying. She was his girlfriend

MOODS
MOODS

You wionder why you feel so screwed All fingers pointing right at you

Beverly Pike
Beverly Pike

Good for her. He got out and she demanded he get back in.

Markie Mapo
Markie Mapo

Lesson to be learned from this one, boys. 

John Washington
John Washington

No sympathy for that girl. She could have tried to talk him down or could have tried to alert others that he needed help. Hope she enjoys prison.

Willie Hudson
Willie Hudson

She just talked a stupid person into committing suicide one less white person to deal with no.2 because she's going to jail

Johana_
Johana_

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someonesdad
someonesdad

I'm thrilled to see this.  It's about time there's a penalty for being a desensitized little POS.

Lee Hager
Lee Hager

Some people only learn the hard way! I hope she has a miserable life ahead of her in prison. The hardened older ladies will love to take advantage of the fresh young meat in prison so she will be in for a rude awakening.

Tom Green
Tom Green

Adjudicating responsibility for this senseless and tragic situation, onto those who would tell you to "jump off of a cliff," will prove to be quite a slippery slope.

someonesdad
someonesdad

I say we slide right down that slope. Sounds good to me.

Debora Slatten
Debora Slatten

Maybe her cell mate will do something with those eyebrows

Laura Thomas
Laura Thomas

But who still can't convict a cop for killing an innocent black man for no reason.

72DCSD99
72DCSD99

Wrong story. Stay on point.

someonesdad
someonesdad

I havent seen an innocent black man in the news in a long time. Except OJ of course.

Meg McEwen
Meg McEwen

No matter what her sentence is, she'll be answering for this for the rest of her life.

Chee Hill
Chee Hill

Since trump got elected, you'd better not be a woman with any faults, be in the presence of Cosby, get pulled over while being black bc your boyfriend will be murdered, and definitely don't get caught leaking NSA documents to the press while being a woman.

Meg McEwen
Meg McEwen

... I don't see the relationship.

Chee Hill
Chee Hill

Of course you don't. It requires you to think about what all that "lock her up" chanting was about. It wasn't just about Hillary per se.

someonesdad
someonesdad

Nah, we'd have to be illogical loons to see things your way.

Christopher Pittman
Christopher Pittman

Let me see... Who do I want dead. Text one and cc the others. Let me get started.

Ashley Blue
Ashley Blue

i was on her side until i found out she knew he was in process of killing himself then ordered him back in the car

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

Personally, if I were on a jury, I would have a hard time rendering a guilty verdict with these facts.  This country has been moving toward "thought crimes" for some time now.  First was the "hate crimes" laws.  Now this.

mensa_dropout
mensa_dropout

@Lee_CPA2 I have never agreed with your posts before, but I absolutely agree with this one.  The thought police are coming, and 1984 is more and more true than I would ever have thought. 

bu22
bu22

@Lee_CPA2 Its hard to see a guilty verdict, even more so considering her own suicidal impulses.

Tiffanie D Prater
Tiffanie D Prater

She should go to jail but that boy had a choice, he could have disregarded her texts and not have gotten back in that truck. She definitely deserves jail time but I don't think 20 years. Hell some people who actually murder people don't get that kind of time.

Angelika Moore
Angelika Moore

I doubt that she will actually get 20, but I'm glad it was recognized that she is a psycho and should have helped instead of being on some sort of sick powertrip over him.

Tiffanie D Prater
Tiffanie D Prater

Angela Watson For one I do have empathy, clearly regardless of how that boy was feeling, he wanted to first continue living when he got out of the truck before he died. He allowed someone to talk him into going forward. That is why I said he did this to himself. Secondly, the girl was wrong and obviously needed help. She obviously also had more control over that boy than he had of himself. It's a messed up situation but personal responsibility plays in every situation. Honesty is not showing lack of empathy.

Alan McDaniel
Alan McDaniel

But you, Tiffanie D Prater, are showing an amazing lack of knowledge of any of the illnesses that generally lead one to be suicidal. Even a person with only the most basic knowledge of suicide knows better, usually, than to say anything even remotely as inappropriate and wrong as what you wrote. That said, one sign of empathy is knowing when to say noting.

Angela Watson
Angela Watson

Your lack of empathy is disgusting. Most people who kill themselves are experiencing severe depression and don't see a away out. Their pain is intense to them. That's a form of mental illness and they're not functioning on your perfect mental capacity. She is complicit in his death.

Tiffanie D Prater
Tiffanie D Prater

Alan McDaniel I do have knowledge and I have seen cases. No I don't know what goes on in someone's mind but fact of the matter is both parties were wrong. If his family tried to get him help and he refused whose fault is that? Certainly not that girl. The girl was wrong by telling him to get back in the truck. That is all she is responsible for. Again, regardless of the situation as adults we have to take responsibility for our actions be it as it may.

Ngoc Tran
Ngoc Tran

Good she should be in jail for good 50 years