By Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday left in place the manslaughter conviction of a Massachusetts woman for goading her boyfriend into committing suicide in 2014 with numerous text messages and phone calls in a case that drew attention to cyber bullying.
The justices refused to hear Michelle Carter’s appeal of a Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling last year upholding her 2018 conviction. Evidence in the trial showed she repeatedly urged her boyfriend, Conrad Roy, to kill himself by inhaling carbon monoxide inside a parked vehicle. She was 17 and he was 18 at the time.
Carter’s lawyers argued that her conviction violated her right to free speech under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment. The case raised concerns among civil liberties advocates who said Carter was being prosecuted for her speech. It was the first time Massachusetts brought manslaughter charges related to texting.
Roy killed himself by filling his parked truck in Fairhaven, Massachusetts – about 60 miles (100 km) south of Boston – with carbon monoxide from a generator he had hooked up to the vehicle. Prosecutors presented evidence showing Roy briefly left the vehicle after he began to be overwhelmed by the fumes, but returned after Carter urged him to “get back in.”
That instruction, conveyed to Roy by phone, was captured in a text message Carter sent to a friend. She had, in earlier text messages, encouraged Roy to “promise” to kill himself and helped him plan the event after he abandoned earlier suicide attempts.
“You just need to do it Conrad. The more you push it off, the more it will eat at you,” she wrote in one text to him.
“You just gotta do it babe, you can’t think about it,” she wrote in another.
“You’re just making it harder on yourself by pushing it off, you just have to do it,” she wrote in another.
Carter, of Plainville, Massachusetts, was indicted in 2015. She opted against a jury trial, leaving her fate in the hands of Bristol County Juvenile Court Judge Lawrence Moniz, who found her guilty of involuntary manslaughter in 2017.
Moniz subsequently ordered her to serve 15 months of a 2 1/2-year sentence in prison. She started serving her sentence after the appeals court ruling.
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by Nate Raymond; Editing by Will Dunham)