A judge, sitting without a jury, found that a barrage of messages sent by Michelle Carter when she was aged 17 and 18, had persuaded her teenage boyfriend, Conrad Roy III, to take his own life, by means of carbon monoxide poisoning.
One crucial message, highlighted by Judge Lawrence Moniz, was delivered by Carter to Mr Roy after he climbed out of his vehicle after getting scared. “Get back in,” she told him.
“She admits in subsequent texts that she did nothing, she did not call the police or Mr Roy’s family,” Mr Moniz told the court in the city of Taunton, as he explained his reasoning. “She did not notify his mother or sister. And finally, she did not issue a simple additional instruction: ‘Get out of the truck’.”
The judge then asked Carter to get to her feet as he delivered his verdict and she stood there sobbing. “This court, having reviewed the evidence, finds you guilty on the indictment with involuntary manslaughter,” he said.
The case had sparked intense debate among legal experts and many had anticipated that Carter would be cleared.
Unlike many other states, Massachusetts has no law against encouraging suicide. In addition, Carter was not present when Mr Roy took his life.
Carter’s defence lawyer, Joseph Cataldo, had argued that Mr Roy had a history of depression and suicide attempts and was determined to end his own life. He said Carter initially tried to talk Mr Roy out of it and urged him to get professional help, but eventually went along with his plan, according to the Associated Press.
But the prosecution presented a mass of evidence to support its argument that her behaviour amounted to wanton and reckless conduct.
“I thought you wanted to do this. The time is right and you’re ready, you just need to do it,” she wrote in one message.
Prosecutor Katie Rayburn said that Carter told Mr Roy that his family would be fine if he were to kill himself and that she would help look after them. She said Carter frequently scolded her boyfriend if he became frightened with his suicide plan.
“It got to the point he was apologising for not being dead yet,” said Ms Rayburn.
Dr Peter Breggin, a psychiatrist testifying for the defence, said Carter was a “very troubled youngster” who suffered from depression.
At the time of Mr Roy’s death, Carter was taking Celexa, an antidepressant that Mr Breggin said targets the brain’s frontal lobe, which controls empathy and decision-making.
He said Carter was in the grips of a “grandiose” delusion that she alone could help Roy find his way to heaven and she would care for his family.
Mr Roy, 18, was found dead of carbon monoxide poisoning in his truck in a store parking lot in Fairhaven, near New Bedford, in July 2014.
The judge ruled that Carter can remain free on bail but ordered her not to make any contact with Mr Roy’s family and can't leave the state. She faces a sentence of probation to 20 years in prison.
The case opened a window into the trauma of teen depression. However, the American Civil Liberties Union denounced the verdict as unconstitutional and said it exceeded “the limits of our criminal laws and violates free speech protections guaranteed by the Massachusetts and US Constitutions”.
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