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Michelle Carter can face manslaughter charge for allegedly encouraging boyfriend’s suicide, judge rules

Michelle Carter listens to her defense attorney argue for an involuntary manslaughter charge against her to be dismissed at Juvenile Court in New Bedford, Mass. (Peter Pereira/The New Bedford Standard Times via AP)
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The controversial case against Michelle Carter can go ahead, a judge ruled Wednesday.

Carter, 18, is facing involuntary manslaughter charges in a Massachusetts juvenile court over the suicide of her boyfriend.

According to prosecutors, Carter relentlessly pressured Conrad Roy III to kill himself in the days before his July 12, 2014, death. She allegedly calmed his fears; helped him research suicide methods; cajoled him to go through with his plans when he got cold feet and lied to police, family and friends in order to enable the 18-year-old’s final act.

“When are you doing it?” she asked repeatedly in text messages. “You better not be bullsh—ing me and saying you gonna do this and then purposely get caught.”

“You always say you’re gonna do it, but you never do,” Carter complained in one of the more than 1,000 texts the two teens shared. She was tired of his “excuses,” she said several times. “I just want to make sure tonight is the real thing.”

When, at the last minute, Roy said he was afraid and didn’t want to abandon his family, Carter told him to climb back into his exhaust-filled truck.

“Get back in,” she told him.

He did — and he died as a result.

Police found Roy the next morning, dead inside his pickup in a Kmart parking lot. Next to his lifeless body lay his cellphone, on which his girlfriend had listened to him die.

Investigators quickly pulled the damning text messages discussing the suicide from that phone. Prosecutors said Carter “assisted Conrad’s suicide.” And a grand jury indicted the teen in February.

If convicted, Carter could spend the next 20 years in prison — more than her time so far on earth.

“Instead of attempting to assist him or notify his family or school officials, Ms. Carter is alleged to have strongly influenced his decision to take his own life, encouraged him to commit suicide and guided him in his engagement of activities which led to his death,” Gregg Miliote, a spokesman for Bristol County District Attorney Tom Quinn, told the Sun Chronicle.

Her attorneys claim that Carter, who was 17 at the time of her boyfriend’s suicide, was herself pressured into going along with the idea.

“He ultimately persuaded a young, impressionable girl,” Joseph P. Caldato told reporters, according to South Coast Today. “Eventually he gets her to endorse his plan.”

She was “brainwashed,” Caldato added. His client has pleaded not guilty, according to media reports.

Last month, Carter’s attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the indictment against her. In addition to the “brainwashing” defense, they argued that her texts were protected by the First Amendment. They have also introduced other text messages that, they claim, show Carter initially tried to convince Roy to abandon his suicide obsession.

One text, allegedly sent by Carter, asked Roy to “promise” her he wasn’t going to kill himself. “I wanna help you live again,” said another text, also allegedly from Carter.

“It’s a sad story, a tragedy, but it’s not manslaughter,” Cataldo told CBS in March. “What we have here is a young man who made a voluntary decision to end his own life. It was his voluntary decision. His death was not caused by Michelle Carter.”

The attorney said the case, “where a person who is 30 miles away is charged with committing manslaughter by text,” was unprecedented in Massachusetts. The state does not have a statute criminalizing assisted suicide.

On Wednesday, juvenile court judge Bettina Borders rejected Cataldo’s motion to dismiss, effectively allowing the case to proceed to trial.

In a seven-page ruling citing the teens’ 45-minute phone conversation just before Roy’s death, Borders ruled that prosecutors had shown enough evidence of wrongdoing to override any First Amendment concerns.

“Even if the defendant did not understand the consequences of her actions, a reasonable person would have realized that telling a person to get back into a truck filled with carbon monoxide would pose a grave risk of danger to that person,” the judge wrote, according to the Sun Chronicle.

“We are pleased with the judge’s thorough review of the law as it pertains to the facts of this case, and her ultimate ruling to deny the defendant’s motion to dismiss the indictment,” Miliote, the district attorney’s spokesman, said in a statement. “We can now focus our efforts on preparing for the upcoming trial in this case.”

Carter’s attorneys said they plan to appeal Wednesday’s ruling.

“I’m both surprised and disappointed,” said Cataldo, who could not be reached by The Washington Post on Wednesday night.

“I’m surprised the court didn’t analyze the text messages that Michelle Carter sent to Conrad Roy throughout June (of 2014) asking him to get help,” he said. “It seemed to have relied on the text messages the government put forward.”

Carter is scheduled to appear in court on Nov. 30 for a pretrial hearing.

The case has drawn heavy scrutiny, both in southern Massachusetts and across the country, largely because of the revealing text messages and the fact that Carter became a suicide prevention spokesperson afterwards. Prosecutors have even suggested that the teen encouraged her boyfriend to commit suicide in order to gain sympathy for herself, according to the Sun Chronicle.

“Hey everyone, as some of you already know my boyfriend Conrad Roy recently passed away on July 13. He suffered from mental illness and depression,” she wrote on Facebook. “Conrad’s death was a wake-up call for me. I want to speak out to fight the public stigma and to give a clearer picture of what mental illness is all about. Even though I could not save my boyfriend’s life, I want to put myself out there to try to save as many other lives as possible, and if I can through my experiences shed light on a way out of a difficult situation that I know so many people are going through, then that is what I need to do.”

Carter has been criticized in her own community and on Internet message boards as “sick” and a “sociopath.”

“A lot of people who think she’s guilty are disgusted with her,” a student at Carter’s former school, King Phillip Regional High School in Wrentham, Mass., told the Sun Chronicle.

But friends and family have defended her. “She’s a good kid, a sweet kid,” her high school softball coach told South Coast Today.

“Our hearts have and remain broken for the Roy family,” Carter’s parents said in a statement to the Boston Herald. “For everyone that does not know our daughter, she is not the villain the media is portraying her to be. She is a quiet, kind, and sympathetic young girl. She tried immensely to help Mr. Roy in his battle with depression. We know that once all of the facts are released, our daughter will be found innocent.”

If the case does go to trial, the verdict could hang on the jury’s view of the text messages, which Carter asked Roy to delete before he killed himself. The teen appeared to understand exactly how bad her texts would look.

“[If the police] read my messages with him I’m done,” she wrote to a friend after Roy’s suicide. “His family will hate me and I can go to jail.”

Now her words are, indeed, coming back to haunt her.

“His death is my fault,” she texted a friend on September 15, 2014, two months after Roy’s suicide. “Like, honestly I could have stopped it. I was the one on the phone with him and he got out of the car because he was working and he got scared and I [expletive] told him to get back in… because I knew he would do it all over again the next day and I couldn’t have him live that way the way he was living anymore.

“I couldn’t do it,” she said. “I wouldn’t let him.”

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