The 20-year-old Massachusetts woman who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for encouraging her teenaged boyfriend via text message to kill himself has been sentenced to 15 months in jail.
Michelle Carter, 20, faced up to 25 years in prison on the charge, which stemmed from the July 2014 incident that resulted in the death by suicide of Conrad Roy III, 18. Roy died of carbon monoxide poisoning inside his truck on July 12th of that year. A court determined Roy had been texting Carter about how he was contemplating suicide while inside the truck, then freaked out and got out; Carter then told him to "get back in" to the truck and he did so. In June, Carter was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
Roy's family pushed the Bristol County Juvenile Court to hand Carter the maximum sentence. "I cannot begin to describe the despair I feel over the loss of my son,” his father, Conrad Roy Jr., told the court, according to the Times, adding that Carter had “exploited my son’s weaknesses and used him as a pawn in her own well-being."
Still, Judge Lawrence Moniz sentenced Carter to only 2.5 years in county jail, with 15 months suspended. "This court must and has considered a balancing between rehabilitation, the promise that that rehabilitation would work and a punishment for the actions that have occurred,” Moniz said when he announced Carter's sentence. The court also agreed to a stay of sentence pending an appeal.
Carter's defense had asked five year’s probation and mental-health counseling, arguing that Carter had suffered from a severe eating disorder, in addition to other mental health issues, and bonded with Roy over their shared problems. The judge disagreed that Carter's mental health affected her judgment. “I am satisfied that she is mindful of the actions for which she now stands convicted,” Moniz said.
Legal experts have puzzled over the case, noting that it's incredibly rare for a court to hold another person's words responsible for someone's suicide, and that Massachusetts does not have a law explicitly barring people from encouraging others to take their own lives. The court was swayed both by the texts from Carter telling Roy to get back in the car, as well as by later text messages in which Carter confessed to convincing Roy to kill himself.
“Sam his death is my fault, like honestly I could have stopped him," she wrote in one text message. "I was on the phone with him and he got out of the car because it was working and he got scared and I [expletive] told him to get back in."
If someone you know exhibits warning signs of suicide: do not leave the person alone; remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt; and call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional.