Massachusetts' highest court has ruled that a teenage girl must stand trial on a manslaughter charge for encouraging her boyfriend to kill himself by sending him dozens of text messages and telling him to "get back in" a truck filled with carbon monoxide fumes.
The Supreme Judicial Court ruled Friday that a grand jury had probable cause to indict 19-year-old Michelle Carter of Plainville in the 2014 death of 18-year-old Conrad Roy III of Mattapoisett.
"We appreciate the court's thorough review of the law as it pertains to the facts of this case, and its decision to uphold the juvenile court's denial of the defendant's motion to dismiss," said Gregg Miliote, a spokesman for the Bristol County District Attorney's Office. "We will now focus our efforts on preparing for the upcoming trial in this case."
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Because she was charged as a youthful offender, Carter could face up to 20 years in prison, the same sentence an adult would if convicted. Her lawyer had asked the state's highest court to either dismiss the manslaughter charge or require prosecutors to try her as a juvenile.
The charge against Carter drew national attention after transcripts of text messages were released publicly, showing she urged Roy to follow through on his plan to take his own life.
"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, then 17, wrote to Roy on the day of his death.
The teens had met in Florida two years earlier while visiting relatives. Their relationship consisted mostly of text messages and emails, and they hadn't seen each other in more than a year when Roy died, even though they lived only about 50 miles apart in Massachusetts.
When Roy's body was discovered in his pickup truck in Fairhaven, police found a gasoline-operated water pump in the back seat.
Carter's lawyer, Joseph Cataldo, argues that her text messages were free speech protected by the First Amendment and do not constitute a crime.
"Conrad Roy killed himself. Michelle Carter did not cause the death of Conrad Roy," Cataldo told necn. "He brought about his own death. He took all the necessary physical steps to bring about his own death. Planned it for some time. She didn't cause it."
Massachusetts does not have a law against encouraging or assisting suicide.
Cataldo said Carter had repeatedly tried to talk Roy out of taking his own life, but gave up about two weeks before his death. He argued that Roy - who had made a previous suicide attempt - was determined to end his life.
"The bottom line is she was not physically present," Cataldo said. "These are words. It's speech. It's talk and she didn't threaten to bring harm to him and this was his plan. While she did engage in encouragement of his plan, it's his own decision to bring about his own death."
But the court noted that the grand jury heard evidence suggesting that Carter engaged in a "systematic campaign of coercion" that targeted Roy's insecurities and that her instruction to "get back in" his truck in his final moments was a "direct, causal link to his death."