Woman who pushed her teen boyfriend to commit suicide via texts says it was 'free speech'

Woman who pushed her teen boyfriend to commit suicide via texts says it was 'free speech'
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Attorneys representing a Massachusetts woman who encouraged her teen boyfriend to kill himself said that her texts and other related statements are protected by free speech and should not have been used against her; in a bid to overturn her conviction for involuntary manslaughter. After the 2014 suicide of 18-year-old Conrad Roy III, 21-year-old Michelle Carter was sentenced to 15 months in jail. Conrad, who was found dead in his pickup truck from carbon monoxide poisoning, was seemingly supported and encouraged by a 17-year-old Carter via a series of text messages and conversations that surfaced only after his tragic death.

“To Michelle,” read Roy’s suicide note, “This life has been challenging and troublesome for me but I’ll forever be in your heart and we will meet up someday in heaven. I [heart] you.”

While the appeal filed on June 29 does not deny Carter's wrongdoing, it says there is a problem with statements made by Bristol County Juvenile Court Judge Lawrence Moniz, who ruled that “Carter’s actions and also her failure to act where she had a self-created duty to Mr. Roy, since she had put him in that toxic environment, constituted each and all wanton and reckless conduct", according to People.

There were two instances brought forth by the judge that helped him prepare the verdict. Firstly, the 18-year-old had expressed his desire to discontinue the lethal plan by getting out the truck. However, Carter urged him to get back in the vehicle. Secondly, she failed to inform anyone else about the same.

“She [instructed] Mr. Roy to get back into the truck, well-knowing of all of the feelings that he [had] exchanged with her: his ambiguities, his fears, his concerns,” Moniz said.

The judge further added: “She did nothing. She did not call the police or Mr. Roy’s family. Finally, she did not issue a simple additional instruction [to Roy]: ‘Get out of the truck.'”

That said, Carter’s unabashed attorneys appealed to discuss Moniz’s statements. “Because the judge convicted Carter for what she said, or failed to say, not what she did, this case implicates free speech under the First Amendment and art,” they wrote.

“Carter’s words encouraging Roy’s suicide, however distasteful to this Court, were protected speech,” Carter's attorneys added.

It has been debated for the longest time whether someone not present at the scene of a crime could be legally found guilty for it.

However, if Carter’s conviction is allowed to stand, “Massachusetts would be the only state to uphold an involuntary manslaughter conviction where an absent defendant, with words alone, encouraged another person to commit suicide,” her attorneys argued.

They also mentioned in their appeal that prosecutors highlighted only those texts that helped build their case against Carter, accusing them of "cherry-picking" information to portray her interactions with Roy in a bad light.

According to Clay Calvert, director of Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project, the standard used to test 1st Amendment cases dictates that abstract advocacy of illegal activity is protected by the Constitution.

“A speaker is not protected by the First Amendment if her speech is intended to incite or produce imminent unlawful action and if such unlawful action is substantially likely to occur,” Calvert said in an email.

However, Carter did not call for "imminent lawlessness" as there is no state statute that deems it illegal to encourage suicide, said Joseph Cataldo, one of her attorneys. “Massachusetts common law has never said that words alone without physical presence has been sufficient to constitute a homicide – not until this case,” he said. “Any new definition of common law can only be applied moving forward, you cannot apply it to past events.”

As the outcome of the appeal is still pending, Carter has remained free on bail for the time being.

According to her lawyers, the text messages allegedly indicating Carter's "compassion" towards her boyfriend were never supplemented along with the evidence. One of such texts pointed out by them reads: “I’m not giving up on you, it’s just every time I try to help you don’t listen.”

“It was Roy, not Carter, who researched the idea, developed the details, obtained the necessary equipment, picked the spot to park his truck, and put his fatal plan in motion,” the appeal states.

In one of the texts, however, the 17-year-old Carter advises Roy to seek professional help. It reads as such:  “You aren’t gonna get better on your own… Uou need professional help…”

While some of her text messages did push Roy to get help, most of them encouraged him to follow through on the said plan.

“So I guess you aren’t gonna do it then, all that for nothing,” Carter texted Roy hours before his suicide. “I’m just so confused like you were so ready and determined.”

While some others read: “You always say you’re gonna do it, but you never do. I just want to make sure tonight is the real thing,” “You just have to do it” and “It’s painless and quick.”

Having said that, the appeal further argues that Carter herself needed help with an eating disorder, and so she texted Roy saying, “… we can go together so we will be there for each other.”

In 2014, Roy's body was found by the police in a pickup truck parked in a Kmart. Records said that authorities ruled his death a suicide from “carbon monoxide poisoning from the water pump” attached to his vehicle. Court records also state that Roy had a history of mental illness.

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