Last Sunday we covered the upsetting news of a teen girl, Michelle Carter, who allegedly coaxed her boyfriend, 18-year-old Conrad Roy III, into committing suicide. On July 13, 2014 in Fairhaven, Massachusetts, Roy apparently died by suicide inside his truck, where police later found his body and his cell phone.
Investigators discovered that Carter exchanged over 1,000 texts with him before his death. The Bristol District Attorney's office believes these texts "strongly influenced" Roy's actions that night. It's important to note Roy's family reported that he had previously shown signs of depression and emotional struggles, which may have left him more open to suggestion.
"It is alleged that Ms. Carter had firsthand knowledge of Roy’s suicidal thoughts," the district attorney’s office told CBS affiliate WBZ. "Instead of attempting to assist him or notify his family or school officials, Ms. Carter is alleged to have strongly influenced his decision to take his own life, encouraged him to commit suicide and guided him in his engagement of activities which led to his death."
As we previously reported, authorities charged Carter with involuntary manslaughter on Friday (Feb. 27). Being 17 years old at the time of Roy's death, she was arraigned in juvenile court on Saturday and is now out on bail. However, she will be tried as an adult and faces up to 20 years in jail if convicted.
We read your comments on our initial story, and some of you voiced concern over the charge Carter received. Involuntary manslaughter typically involves "an unintentional killing that results from recklessness or criminal negligence ... a crime in which the victim's death is unintended."
As one Facebook reader put it, "Involuntary? How were her actions involuntary?" But others argue that you can't force someone to commit suicide, a sentiment that Carter's attorney, Joseph Cataldo, can speak to.
"[Carter] was not even present when [Roy] made a decision, a voluntary, conscious decision to end his own life," Cataldo told WBZ.
There seems to be some confusion about what exactly constitutes involuntary manslaughter, so we asked criminal defense attorney Daniel Perlman, who has not worked on Roy and Carter's case, to clarify. He told us he is "puzzled" by the involuntary charge as well.
"There's never an affirmative obligation to come to someone's aid but here ... this is someone who knows that they're dealing with [someone] who's very fragile and emotional, who's thinking about and actually trying to kill themselves," Perlman said. "She was actually telling him to do it [and] how to do it, according to these sources."
Existing legislature in some states addresses these types of cases. In California, for example, Perlman told us that it's a crime "to abet, aid or encourage a suicide" under penal code section 401. However, even under this statute, "the courts ... [require] something more than mere verbal solicitation of another person to commit a hypothetical act of suicide."
In other words, Carter's texts are a gray area. Perlman believes her actions were criminally negligent since she didn't directly commit the act that resulted in Roy's death.
"Getting to an overt physical or causal act just isn't there," he told us. "[Carter's] words, encouragement, etcetera were instead criminally negligent, but this stretches (as technology often does) the bounds of the law ... I think they are essentially compelling the legislature to write [a] new law."
The anonymity behind texting and online communication may also play a role here. "[Teens] will text things that they would never say face-to-face ... There isn't as much responsibility, there isn't as much reality when talking [through technology]," Perlman said. "I think this is going to be significant because of the warning it sends out ... We have to teach and coach cyber responsibility."