The Massachusetts Supreme Court has upheld the 15-month prison sentence of Michelle Carter — the woman who, as a teen, encouraged her friend Conrad Roy to commit suicide — NBC News is reporting. Carter had been convicted of manslaughter in August of 2017.
The teen’s sentence had been on-hold while her appeals made their way through the courts. Now that the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the prosecution, the now 21-year-old woman will likely have to report to prison soon. It remains unclear when that will happen.
On Sunday, July 13, 2014, 18-year-old Conrad Roy committed suicide, asphyxiating himself via carbon monoxide poisoning in his pickup truck.
However, there was more to the story than just a despondent young man with a reported history of being an abuse victim taking his own life. Investigators, looking through Roy’s phone and computer, found that his friend — a 17-year-old Michelle Carter — might have played a role in his suicide.
The two had met years prior, and they had a relationship that consisted almost entirely of text messages, phone calls, and the odd video chat. And on the night of his death, police say that Carter sent repeated text messages to her friend, encouraging him to follow through with his plan to commit suicide. In one text exchange, Roy indicated that he wasn’t willing to follow through with his plan. Carter encouraged him to get back into the truck.
Michelle Carter's involuntary manslaughter conviction will stand, the Mass. Supreme Judicial Court ruled. These are the texts at the heart of the case, where she cajoled Conrad Roy III to hill himself. https://t.co/Qe7JhTxdQJ
— The Boston Globe (@BostonGlobe) February 6, 2019
Prosecuting Free Speech?
It was a tricky case for prosecutors — with a legal minefield to navigate — wrote Rolling Stone in June 2017, when Carter first went to trial. There was Carter’s age — 17. There was the fact that it was not, at the time, a specific crime in Massachusetts to encourage someone to commit suicide. There were also free speech issues, as some in the legal community believed that her text messages were protected free speech covered by the First Amendment.
Ultimately, however, the jury thought otherwise — and convicted the teen of involuntary manslaughter. She was sentenced to a two-and-a-half-year term, with 15 months to be served in the Bristol County House of Corrections. The rest of the term was suspended, and five years of probation were to be served.
Appeals Run Out
Carter’s defense team took the three main points of her defense — her age, the First Amendment, and the lack of a specific law under which she could be punished — all the way to the Massachusetts Supreme Court. However, on Tuesday the court rejected those arguments — and ordered that her prison sentence stand.
As for her age, the court matter-of-factly rejected any notion that her age should play a role in reducing her sentence.
As for her crime, the court noted that there were at least three precedent cases in which a defendant was held criminally liable for encouraging another person to commit suicide.
And as for First Amendment protections, as Huffington Post reports, the court ruled that the First Amendment’s protection of Free Speech isn’t absolute.
“The crime of involuntary manslaughter proscribes reckless or wanton conduct causing the death of another. The statute makes no reference to restricting or regulating speech, let alone speech of a particular content or viewpoint.”
Paying For Her Crime
It remains unclear, as of this writing, when Carter is expected to report to prison. In addition to her criminal conviction, she also faces a $4.2 million wrongful death lawsuit brought about by Roy’s mother.