Death of Conrad Roy

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Conrad Henri Roy III (September 12, 1995 – July 13, 2014) was an American who died by suicide at the age of 18 with encouragement from his long-distance girlfriend, 17-year-old Michelle Carter, via text messages. The case was the subject of a notable investigation and involuntary manslaughter trial in Massachusetts, colloquially known as the "texting suicide case". Commonwealth v. Michelle Carter involved scores of text messages, emails, and phone calls recorded between Carter and Roy in the leadup to the latter's death. Roy had seen numerous mental health professionals, and he insisted that he wanted to die. Carter and Roy had both been prescribed psychiatric medication. The case raised complex questions pertaining to the nature and limits of criminal responsibility.[1] Judge Moniz inferred that Carter wanted Roy dead and that her words coerced him to kill himself, a position that has been subject to some criticism.[2] Carter was convicted by the judge of involuntary manslaughter, chiefly on the basis of her final phone call in which she ordered Roy, after he had become scared, to go back inside his truck as it filled with lethal carbon monoxide.[3]

Roy's mental health and relationship with Carter[edit]

Michelle Carter
Born (1996-08-11) August 11, 1996 (age 23)
StatusIncarcerated and scheduled for release in May 2020.[4]
Conviction(s)Involuntary manslaughter
Criminal penalty2½ years, reduced to 15 months plus 5 years' probation
Imprisoned atBristol County House of Correction

Roy was born in 1995 in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts. He was sometimes socially anxious attending school and going into the classroom. For several years he worked with his father, grandfather, and uncle in his family's marine salvage business, Tucker-Roy Marine Towing and Salvage, Inc. in the New England area. In the Spring of 2014 he earned his captain's license from the Northeast Maritime Institute by completing three months of night classes.[5] In June 2014 he graduated on the Honor Roll (highest grades) from Old Rochester Regional High School (ORR) in Mattapoisett. He was an all-around high school athlete who played baseball, rowed crew, and ran track. He graduated with a 3.88 GPA and had been accepted to Fitchburg State University to study business, but at that point had decided not to go.[6][7]

Carter was born on August 11, 1996, in Massachusetts to Gail and David Carter. She went to King Philip Regional High School, Wrentham. She had developed an eating disorder from the age 8 or 9, may have injured herself by cutting,[8] was on prescription psychiatric medication from the age of 14, and attended counseling at McLean Hospital in Belmont.[9][10]

Carter and then-16-year-old Conrad Roy met in Florida in 2012 while each had been visiting relatives. After this initial encounter, they saw each other in person again only a handful of times over the course of two years, despite having lived only about 35 miles (56 km) away from each other in the Boston suburbs.[6][11] Instead, they mostly exchanged text messages and emails.[12]

According to court documents, Roy had allegedly been physically hit by his father and verbally abused by his grandfather, and tried to kill himself in October 2012 while despondent after his parents had divorced.[12][13] After learning that he was planning to kill himself, Carter repeatedly discouraged him from attempting suicide in 2012 and 2014 and encouraged him to "get professional help". However, her attitude changed in July 2014, when she started thinking that it would be a "good thing to help him die".[12] In June, Roy had texted Carter suggesting they act like Romeo and Juliet, checking that she understood they had each killed themselves.[14]

Roy struggled with social anxiety and depression for which he had seen several therapists and counselors, including a cognitive behavioral therapist in the weeks prior to his death. He had been hospitalized for an acetaminophen (paracetamol) overdose at the age of 17; he was talking to a girl he had met in a group and she called the police.[5][6] He had been taking Celexa for some time.[15] In the United States, citalopram carries a boxed warning stating it may increase suicidal thinking and behavior in those under age 24. In 2016 the judge had refused the defense's request for funds to hire an expert on Celexa, describing it as 'speculative'.[16][17][18] Videos that Roy made of himself talking to camera formed an important part of the case.[19]

Roy's death[edit]

On Sunday, July 13, 2014, following digital exchanges with Carter while interacting with his family, Roy died by suicide by poisoning himself with carbon monoxide fumes in his truck in a Kmart parking lot in Fairhaven, Massachusetts.

Roy's funeral was held on Saturday, July 19, 2014, at St. Anthony's Church in Mattapoisett. The Captain Conrad H. Roy III Scholarship Fund at the Northeast Maritime Institute in Fairhaven, Massachusetts, was established in his memory.[20]

Court proceedings[edit]

Commonwealth v. Michelle Carter
CourtNew Bedford Juvenile Court
DecidedJune 16, 2017 (2017-06-16)
VerdictGuilty of involuntary manslaughter
Case history
Subsequent action(s)defendant was sentenced to 2½ years in prison (sentence later reduced to 15 months).
Case opinions
Decision byLawrence Moniz

Michelle Carter was indicted on February 4, 2015, and arraigned the following day in New Bedford Juvenile Court in Taunton, Massachusetts on charges of involuntary manslaughter. The grand jury found enough to charge her with "wantonly and recklessly" assisting the suicide. She was 17 at the time and the court indicted her as a 'youthful offender' rather than a 'juvenile', meaning she could be sentenced as an adult.[21][22]

In May 2015, Roy's family were upset by pictures posted on social media by Gail Carter showing her daughter Michelle in a prom dress and on a trip to Orlando taking part in a DECA schools competition which included visiting Walt Disney World.[23][22]

In June 2015 a district court judge denied a defense motion to remove the Bristol County District Attorney's office from the prosecution. The defense argued that DA Thomas M. Quinn III should be removed because he is first cousin to Roy's grandmother Janice Roy and therefore Conrad's first cousin twice removed. However, Quinn had already handed the case over to his Deputy DA William McCauley.[24] On July 1, 2016 an appeal to the grand jury indictment heard by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court was also denied, allowing the case to go forward.[25][26] Justice Robert J. Cordy, writing for the unanimous court, found there was probable cause to sustain the manslaughter indictment.[27][28]

On Monday, June 5, 2017, the day before the trial was scheduled to begin, Carter waived her right to jury trial. Therefore, the case was heard by Judge Lawrence Moniz in the Bristol County Juvenile Court of Massachusetts, in Taunton.[29][30] Carter was represented by Joseph P. Cataldo and Cory Madera.[31] As there was limited legal precedent for prosecuting the encouragement of suicide, Cataldo initially asked a Taunton Juvenile Court judge for summary dismissal, arguing that Carter's texts were protected under the First Amendment and that the text history showed that Roy had been contemplating suicide without Carter's input. The judge declined this motion.[32][33]

On June 16, 2017, Judge Lawrence Moniz of the Bristol County Juvenile Court of Massachusetts in Taunton found Carter guilty of involuntary manslaughter.[31][34][35][36] He stated prior to his ruling that it was Carter's phone calls with Roy when he was in his truck gassing himself (as described by Carter's texts to friends), rather than the preceding text messages, that caused him to go through with killing himself.[37] Judge Moniz found that Roy had broken the “chain of self-causation” towards his suicide when he exited the truck and that it was Carter's wanton and reckless encouragement to then return to the truck that caused his death.[27]

After the guilty verdict Roy's father stated publicly that the family were pleased with the verdict but that they wanted privacy and time to process the events they have experienced; Lynn Roy appeared on the CBS 48 Hours show, saying she didn't believe Carter had a conscience and that she knew exactly what she was doing.[38]

Carter remained free on bail pending her sentencing.[39] On August 3, 2017, Judge Lawrence Moniz sentenced Carter to serve a two-and-a-half-year term, with 15 months to be served in the Bristol County House of Corrections, the rest of the balance suspended, and five years of probation to be served.[40][41] Soon after the sentencing was handed down, Carter's lawyers asked Judge Moniz to issue a stay of the sentence until all of Carter's Massachusetts court appeals options are exhausted. Judge Moniz granted the stay with conditions that Carter stay away from the Roy family.[42]

On February 6, 2019, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that Carter acted with criminal intent when she encouraged Roy into suicide, so her involuntary manslaughter conviction was ordered to stand and Carter's 15-month prison sentence will be enforced in the near future.[43] The rest of the 2½-year sentence was suspended, followed by five years of probation.[44]

On February 11, 2019, Carter was ordered by a Massachusetts judge to begin serving her sentence.[45]

On July 8, 2019, Carter, through her lawyers, petitioned the Supreme Court of the United States to review the case based upon First Amendment and Fifth Amendment grounds.[46]

Carter's defense lawyers argued that Roy had a history of suicide attempts and the decision to end his life was his own,[47] that Carter was "bewildered" over the case against her, and that, "Taking all the texts in context, she tried to talk him out of it... ."[48] They argued in initial hearings that the defendant had broken no law and had a first amendment right to free speech, and that at that time she was a juvenile.

Carter was sentenced to serve 15 months in prison.[49][50] On September 19, 2019, Carter had a parole hearing and asked for early release and the parole board denied the request on September 20.[51]

Legal repercussions[edit]

The case was expected by some to set a legal precedent,[52] regarding, as Ray Sanchez and Natisha Lance of CNN put it, "whether it's a crime to tell someone to commit suicide." Sanchez and Lance also stated that "The ruling... may spur lawmakers to codify the behavior highlighted in the case as criminal."[53] The judge had noted that Carter had willed Roy's death, that she did not order him out of the truck and that her actions "put him in that toxic environment" which "constituted reckless conduct" and "that the conduct caused the death of Mr. Roy."[53]

While U.S. law does not allow the lower-court decision to bind other courts,[54] legal professionals believe it could have a social effect by raising other courts' attention to new, digital methods of committing crimes.[55] The case also attempts to redefine the social spectrum and which attitudes and behaviors would qualify as criminal that were not considered criminal before.[56]

In media[edit]

On September 23, 2018, Lifetime released a telefilm entitled Conrad & Michelle: If Words Could Kill which stars Austin P. McKenzie as Conrad Roy and Bella Thorne as Michelle Carter.[57]

A Dateline NBC episode regarding the case, entitled Reckless, aired on NBC on February 8, 2019. In addition to covering the court proceedings of Carter's conviction, Dateline correspondent Andrea Canning interviewed both the prosecution and defense attorneys, along with Conrad Roy's family members.[58]

On July 9, 2019, HBO released a two-part documentary on the case called I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth Vs. Michelle Carter, which explores the complicated relationship between Carter and Roy, drawing on some of the thousands of texts they exchanged over two years to chronicle their courtship and its tragic consequences. The film premiered at South by Southwest 2019, and was directed and produced by Erin Lee Carr.[59] The same week as the documentary release, Carter's lawyers submitted a petition[60] to the Supreme Court to consider her encouragement to commit suicide as protected free speech. Constitutional law scholar Eugene Volokh was reported as saying he did not expect the justices to take the case.[61]

On August 15, 2019, it was announced that Universal Cable Productions was developing a television series inspired by the case, with documentarian Erin Lee Carr and journalist Jesse Barron serving as consulting producers.[62]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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  2. ^ Tunick, Mark (2019-04-16). "Texting, Suicide, and The Law". doi:10.4324/9780429242977. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  3. ^ Richer, Alanna Durkin (6 February 2019). "High court upholds texting suicide manslaughter conviction". AP NEWS. Retrieved 6 February 2019.
  4. ^ "Michelle Carter begins jail sentence for texting suicide conviction". February 11, 2019.
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