A Massachusetts judge sentenced Michelle Carter to two-and-a-half years in prison on Thursday for urging her 18-year-old boyfriend, Conrad Roy III, to commit suicide via phone conversations and text messages in 2014.
Inside Taunton Trial Court, Bristol County Juvenile Court Judge Lawrence Moniz sentenced Carter to 15 months commitment before being eligible for probation and prohibited her from profiting off the crime. He also gave her five years probation. During a live-streamed session, Moniz said that he didn’t find that Carter’s age or mental health issues “have any significant impact on her actions.” But Moniz added that he did take her age into account when reviewing the possibility of juvenile rehabilitation.
Then in a turn of events, Moniz said he was “satisfied” that the case was worthy of “presentation to the appellate court” and granted a stay until all state appeals are exhausted. That means Carter will not be incarcerated at this time. If her appeals are denied, she will start serving her sentence behind bars.
Carter’s defense attorney, Joseph P. Cataldo, said that this is “a very important legal issue that needs to be pursued in the appellate courts” and asked Judge Moniz to stay the incarceration until the case goes through appellate court. Before the sentencing, Cataldo asked Judge Moniz to consider a period of 5 years probation with mental health counseling. “Carter does not present a danger to the public,” Cataldo said, adding that the teenagers both struggled with mental health issues. “This was out of character” for Carter. “This is not who she was…She is the kind of person who should be given the chance to have probation.” Prosecutors had requested a prison sentence of seven to 12 years.
Carter, now 20, was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in June. Judge Moniz, who ruled over the case since Carter waived a jury-trial, reasoned that Carter’s conduct at 17 “caused the death” of her boyfriend by goading him over the phone even after he expressed his fear of killing himself.
In closing arguments, Bristol County District Attorney Katie Rayburn said that “the risk Carter created was ‘reckless’ and the charges should stick despite her not being physically present at the time of Conrad’s death, since “you can encourage someone to die via text, and you can commit a crime via text.” Cataldo contended that Roy was “somebody who wanted to eventually take his own life” and though his death was “sad” and “tragic” it was “just not a homicide.”
Carter’s case has spawned legal debates across the United States. Daniel Medwed, a professor at Northeastern University School of Law, told Rolling Stone that Carter’s “behavior was horrible, but it doesn’t fit perfectly with involuntary manslaughter.” A manslaughter charge typically involves “a direct reckless action,” but here’s “an indirect action because Carter’s words may have pushed Roy to do something, but ultimately Roy was the one who did it.”
Last year, Carter’s defense team tried getting the indictment thrown out of court on the basis that Massachusetts has no law against assisting someone in taking their own life. But the state’s highest court ruled that Carter could be tried as a youthful offender for involuntary manslaughter, since she had “verbal communications” with Roy that could have carried “more weight than mere words, overcoming any independent will to live he might have had,” Robert Cordy, a Supreme Judicial Court justice who has since retired, wrote in the decision.
It was July 2014 when Carter, then an honor-roll high school student at King Philip Regional High School in Wrentham, used text messages to encourage Roy to kill himself. Days before the suicide, Carter sent a text to Roy, saying, “I still don’t think you want to do this so you’ll have to prove me wrong….Hang yourself, jump off a building, stab yourself. There’s lots of ways,” according to the Boston Globe. Roy, a recent graduate of Old Rochester Regional High School in Mattapoisett who was accepted to Fitchburg State University, decided to rig up a gasoline-powered water pump and sit inside his Ford F250 at a Kmart parking lot in Fairhaven, about 60 miles south of Boston. He stepped out at one point to talk with Carter, who told him to get back into the vehicle and then listened on her phone as he let the carbon monoxide seep into his lungs.