BOSTON -- The involuntary manslaughter conviction of a young woman who encouraged her boyfriend through dozens of text messages to kill himself was upheld Wednesday by Massachusetts' highest court.
The Supreme Judicial Court agreed with a lower court judge who found that Michelle Carter caused Conrad Roy III's death when she told him to "get back in" his truck that was filling with toxic gas after he told her he was scared.
The judge said Carter had a duty to call the police or Roy's family when she knew he was killing himself.
"And then after she convinced him to get back into the carbon monoxide filled truck, she did absolutely nothing to help him: she did not call for help or tell him to get out of the truck as she listened to him choke and die," Justice Scott Kafker wrote in the Supreme Judicial Court's ruling.
Carter's lawyers said in an email they are disappointed in the ruling and will consider appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court, among other legal options. Carter, now 22, was sentenced to 15 months in jail, but has remained free while she pursues her appeals.
Carter was 17 when Roy, 18, was found dead of carbon monoxide poisoning in July 2014. Her case drew international attention due to its thorny legal questions and the insistent tone of Carter's text messages to Roy.
"I thought you wanted to do this. The time is right and you're ready - just do it babe," Carter wrote in one message.
"You're finally going to be happy in heaven. No more pain. It's okay to be scared and it's normal. I mean, you're about to die," she wrote in another.
Prosecutors argued Carter could have stopped Roy from taking his own life, but instead bullied him into going through with his plan through text messages that became more forceful as he delayed.
Carter's lawyers told the court that the only evidence Carter instructed Roy to get back in the truck was a long, rambling text she sent to a friend two months later in which she called Roy's death her fault.
They also argued she can't be convicted because of her words alone, noting she wasn't with him when he killed himself and didn't provide him with the means to do it.
Her attorney said during the hearing in October that there was no evidence it would have made a difference if she had called for help, arguing she didn't even know where his truck was parked.
"We can all see from the text messages that Michelle Carter did not force Conrad Roy to kill himself," Attorney Daniel Marx said at the time.
But the court rejected Carter's argument that the conviction violated her First Amendment right to free speech.
"The only verbal conduct punished as involuntary manslaughter has been the wanton or reckless pressuring of a vulnerable person to commit suicide, overpowering that person's will to live and resulting in that person's death," Kafker wrote in the ruling. "We are therefore not punishing words alone, as the defendant claims, but reckless or wanton words causing death."
Carter and Roy both lived in Massachusetts but met in Florida in 2012 while both were on vacation with their families. Their relationship consisted mainly of texting and other electronic communications. Both teens struggled with depression. Carter had also been treated for anorexia, and Roy had made earlier suicide attempts.
Massachusetts high court upholds texting suicide manslaughter conviction
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