Today, I read a string of text messages between Conrad Roy, a teenager who committed suicide 3 years ago, and his then girlfriend Michelle Carter, who relentlessly encouraged him to do so. I haven’t bothered with saying “allegedly” or “supposedly” because the evidence seems quite clear, and Carter has already been found guilty of involuntary manslaughter. The story is picking up speed now, 3 years after the event, because Michelle Carter finally went to trial this week.
In quick summary, Roy expressed his desire to end his life several times in the months leading up to his death, and asked Carter more than once to join him in a double suicide, which she refused. That’s about where the good decisions end for Carter, however. There were a couple messages showing that Carter loosely suggested Roy seek treatment for his depression, and that was used in her defense, but even those messages were half-hearted and worded to provoke Roy more than anything else. In the days leading up to Roy’s death, Carter texted him specific instructions to kill himself, including details like how and where to do it, what lie to tell his family so he could leave the house, and repeatedly told him things like just do it already, and you can’t keep putting it off. When Roy did go through with the plan the two concocted, Carter initially played the victim, grieved with Roy’s family, and even put together a fundraiser in his honor.
Carter went to trial with a plea of not-guilty, and claimed to be under emotional distress from the anti-depression medication she was on at the time. She was also tried as a minor as the crime took place when she was 17 years old. Thankfully, Carter was found guilty of this heinous crime. The offense of involuntary manslaughter carries a sentencing of up to 20 years in prison, though her sentencing will not take place until August of this year, so we do not yet know what she faces.
Here are the three things I find most disturbing about this case:
- The obvious: Roy trusted Carter and loved her, and she pushed him directly into his own grave. It would be bad enough if she sat back and did nothing after he confided in her that he was contemplating suicide, but she took this as an opportunity to lead a troubled young man into his own murder.
- Carter had the audacity to play the victim after Roy’s death. She grieved with his family as if she was just as shocked as them. She set up a fundraiser in his honor, with the money going toward mental health and suicide awareness organizations. Had she done the right thing and contacted such an organization months before, Conrad Roy could still be alive today. How twisted must a person be, to make a boy kill himself, and then raise money for suicide prevention?
- Carter was tried as a minor, since she was 17 when the events transpired. Meanwhile, many juvenile offenders have been tried as adults in the past, with some being as young as 13, (you may recall the 2 girls in the 2015 “Slenderman” case in Wisconsin.) Carter just barely squeezed by as a minor in his case, so she certainly could have and should have been tried as an adult. Would anything really have changed over the next few months before she turned 18? Would she have magically matured into a sensible adult? No, because 3 years later she still clings to the lie of her innocence, so clearly age was not the issue.
The state of Massachusetts, where Carter’s trial is taking place, does not have a legal precedent for encouraging suicide like several other states do, so the crime at hand is involuntary manslaughter. I believe that encouraging suicide should be made a federal crime and equal sentencing suggested throughout the sates. With that in mind, I want to step away from this case for a moment and address the crime of encouraging suicide as a whole.
If you orchestrate a bank robbery, but don’t take part, you are an accomplice, and probably a criminal mastermind. If you give someone specific instructions on how/when/where to kidnap a child, but don’t physically take part, you are still guilty. This goes for basically every possible crime; you are an accomplice if you take part in the crime to any capacity, or even just fail to report that it is about to take place. Why, then, is encouraging suicide not universally understood to be a crime?
Well, one argument might be that you cannot be an accomplice if there is no crime taking place, which is technically true as suicide is no longer considered murder, but an issue of mental health. This is why suicide attempt survivors are taken to hospitals and receive treatment, rather than being placed in jail, as they have been in the past. I agree with this entirely; a person who is in such psychological distress that they try to end their life should receive help, not punishment. They are the victim, not the perpetrator. The same cannot be said, though, for the person who encourages them to kill themselves.
Encouraging suicide must be established as a crime of it’s own so that there is precedent for cases like this, because it will continue to happen in the future, and verdicts like Carter’s are simply not sufficient for the crime. She was tried for manslaughter, which by definition is the killing of another person without premeditation or malice. Both of those things seem to be present in Carter’s case, and most all occasions of encouraging suicide. Manslaughter in relation to another person’s suicide implies something closer to negligence; like maybe you thought someone was going to kill themselves and you ignored the warning signs. If Roy had told Carter about his desire to end his life, and she simply said “don’t talk to me about that,” or said nothing at all, that would be manslaughter by negligence, since she did nothing. But to actively encourage him? To help make the plan? To tell him the day, time, location, and how to get out of the house to go kill himself? Clearly premeditated. And how could helping someone plan their own death not be malicious?
Overall, a troubling case and a troubling crime, that happens much more than people think. All around the world, people go on about bullying and how it can lead to suicide, but the solution is to put on sock puppet shows and hand out pamphlets to middle schoolers. How about holding people responsible, and making it common knowledge that telling someone to kill themselves is a crime? When you hold anti-bullying assemblies, don’t just say it’s mean and will get you sent to detention; say it’s a crime and will get you sent to prison.
Here’s to hoping Roy receives justice for what was done to him, and so do the victims of other monsters who have encouraged suicide.
Photo from NBC Boston/Facebook