Michelle Carter, who was found guilty of manslaughter in a shocking conviction earlier this year for sending text messages encouraging her boyfriend to commit suicide, has been sentenced to fifteen months in prison. Carter's boyfriend, Conrad Roy III, killed himself in July 2014.
Carter, now 20-years-old, was 17 when Roy died. Carter sent a series of damning text messages to Roy in the days leading up to his death: on July 8, 2014, in response to Roy's message that he would not kill himself that day, Carter responded, "You can't keep pushing it off, tho, that's all you keep doing." When Roy expressed doubts about going through with his plan on July 11, 2014, Carter told him, "I thought you wanted to do this. The time is right and you're ready, you just need to do it! You can't keep living this way. You just need to do it like you did last time and not think about it and just do it babe. You can't keep doing this every day."
Hundreds of Carter's text messages were used as evidence during the six-day trial. In addition to her text messages, Carter sat on the phone listening to Roy die for over twenty minutes. Carter's defense attorneys argued that Carter herself suffers from mental illness and was taking antidepressants at the time of Roy's death that can cause irrational thinking. After rejecting these arguments and finding Carter guilty, Judge Lawrence Moniz justified his decision by Carter's failure to call the police or Roy's family despite listening to his last moments on the phone. Carter faced up to 20 years behind bars; her defense attorney requested supervised probation coupled with mandatory mental health counseling, while the prosecution recommended a sentence of seven to twelve years. Ultimately, Moniz sentenced Carter to a two-and-a-half-year term, with 15 months in jail and the balance suspended with a period of supervised probation.
Carter's sentence raised eyebrows, and drew criticism from all sides. Some who feel that Carter is a sociopath who will not be rehabilitated by a short prison term felt the sentence should have been much longer. Others felt that her sentence set a dangerous precedent as she only sent text messages, and arguably didn't force Roy to commit suicide. Carter's actions may inspire Massachusetts lawmakers to pass legislation outlawing the coercion or encouragement of suicide - a law that already exists in 40 other states.
Members of both families openly wept in the courtroom throughout the length of the trial. Roy's family testified that he hoped to be a tugboat captain, and was trying to work through his mental health problems. Both prosecution and the defense agreed that the case was sad any way you look at it; as Prosecutor Katie Rayburn put it, there were "no winners" at its conclusion. Carter still has an opportunity to appeal her conviction; Judge Moniz has stayed the sentence meaning Carter will remain free pending her appeals.
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