Back in June, Michelle Carter was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for her role in her friend’s suicide. Conrad Roy III. Carter was 17 when the 18-year-old Conrad Roy III, poisoned himself with carbon monoxide while in his truck. Carter had sent text messages and phone calls that encouraged Roy III to commit suicide. Because of the charges, Carter was looking at as much as 20 years in prison, the NYT reports. Instead, she got 15 months.
What is tricky about the whole issue is the unprecedented nature of encouraging suicide from afar, by a minor, and what sort of punishment is appropriate for the unusual crime. The judge presiding over the case, Judge Lawrence Moniz of Bristol County Juvenile Court, stated that, “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.” Her lawyer actually intends to file an appeal under the notion that the situation, “Is a tragedy. It is not, however, a crime. Conrad Roy took his own life.”
Conversely, there were many that believed Carter acted maliciously and is thereby responsible for Roy’s death. According to the prosecutor, “[Carter’s] actions killed Conrad Roy. She ended his life to better her own.” They even suggested she was looking for extra attention as the “grieving girlfriend,” and claimed Carter demonstrated no true remorse.
And while some legal experts though the punishment fitting, others were shocked by any sort of conviction. In a former federal judge’s opinion, “It recognizes this is an aberrant crime, a juvenile crime, a crime of social media, of the internet, and of the unique dramas of teenage boys and girls. It deserves punishment, but you have to put it in context.” But this assertion breezes past the implication that words alone are dangerous enough to kill. As the Times explains:
The outcome of the trial stunned legal experts, who said it broke ground by suggesting that words alone could be found to cause a suicide. Speech in this case was ruled to be as powerful as a loaded gun, a verdict with potentially broad implications.
It’s such a difficult, nuanced case, and it will be interesting to see where it’s controversial outcome shapes future, similar trials.
To read about the initial conviction, check out NYT’s article here.