Attorneys for Michelle Carter, the woman who was sentenced to 15 months of incarceration last summer for pressuring her boyfriend to commit suicide via text message, have now filed an appeal to overturn the verdict and sentencing.
In court papers filed with the state Supreme Judicial Court on February 5th, Carter’s attorneys argued that their client was convicted on “words alone,” which is a violation of her right to free speech.
“Direct appellate review is appropriate in this matter because … this appeal presents novel questions of constitutional and criminal law,” the filing reads. “It will set precedent for who may be prosecuted for encouraging suicide with words alone.”
“Carter is the first defendant to have been convicted of killing a person who took his own life, even though she neither provided the fatal means nor was present when the suicide occurred,” the filing continues. “Nothing in Massachusetts law made clear to 17-year-old Carter, or anyone else, that such circumstances could constitute involuntary manslaughter.”
Carter was just 17 when she encouraged her then-18-year-old boyfriend, Conrad Roy III, to kill himself through a series of phone conversations and texts back in 2014. Roy had suffered from depression and communicated to Carter that he wanted to abandon his plan, but Carter insisted that he go through with it.
Authorities found Roy’s body in his pickup truck in a parking lot on July 13th, 2014. He had attached a hose to a portable generator to fill the car with carbon monoxide, which is ultimately what killed him. Carter was approximately 30 miles away from the scene of the crime.
Several texts – of the more than 1,000 that investigators discovered following Roy’s death – showed Carter insisting that he follow through with the suicide despite his doubts: You just have to do it,” one read. “It’s painless and quick,” read another.
The judge in her case, Massachusetts Judge Lawrence Moniz, said at the time that he believes two main moments on the day of Roy’s death that led to Carter’s conviction: First, when she told him to get back into the truck, which she knew was filled with carbon monoxide, and second, when she failed to tell anybody else about it at the time.
“She did nothing. She did not call the police or Mr. Roy’s family,” Moniz said. “Finally, she did not issue a simple additional instruction [to Roy]: ‘Get out of the truck.'”
Carter was convicted in July of involuntary manslaughter and faced up to 20 years in prison, marking the first time the court had ruled that an involuntary manslaughter indictment could be made on “the basis of words alone.”
She was eventually sentenced to two-and-a-half years, though all but 15 months of her sentence were suspended while her attorneys filed the expected appeal. Her legal team filed a notice to appeal the conviction in late August.