BOSTON (Reuters) - A Massachusetts judge found a young woman guilty of manslaughter on Friday for a series of text messages to her boyfriend urging him to commit suicide in 2014.
Michelle Carter, now 20, cried and shook as Bristol County Juvenile Court Judge Lawrence Moniz found her guilty of involuntary manslaughter for the series of texts and phone calls urging her 18-year-old boyfriend, Conrad Roy, to kill himself.
Roy and Carter had suffered emotional problems. Roy had previously attempted suicide and Carter had taken psychiatric medications, according to trial testimony.
The case was the first in the state to consider manslaughter charges tied to texting, and defense attorneys had noted the two teens were 30 miles (48 km) apart at the time of Roy’s death. He killed himself by running a generator in his truck as he sat in a parking lot about 60 miles (96 km) south of Boston.
Moniz focused on Carter telling Roy to return to his truck when he was first overcome by fumes.
“Instructing Mr. Roy to get back in the truck constituted wanton and reckless conduct by Ms. Carter, creating a situation where there is a high degree of likelihood that substantial harm will result to Mr. Roy,” Moniz said.
Observers, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, criticized the verdict as an overreach.
“Carter’s behavior was horrible, morally reprehensible, but I‘m not sure that equates with legal responsibility,” said Daniel Medwed, professor of law at Northeastern University in Boston. He added that the verdict is likely to face appeal.
While about 40 U.S. states have laws criminalizing encouraging another person to commit suicide, Massachusetts does not.
Carter opted against a jury trial, leaving her fate in Moniz’s hands. She could face up to 20 years in prison, although Moniz noted he considered her a “youthful offender.”
Moniz will sentence Carter in August.
During the trial, the judge heard extensive readings of text-message exchanges between the two, including one reading: “No more pushing it off. No more waiting.”
Bristol County prosecutor Maryclare Flynn portrayed Carter as a manipulative person who enjoyed controlling Roy and hoped to win sympathy for herself.
Defense attorney Joseph Cataldo portrayed Carter as not in control of her actions because of prescription medication.
Moniz cited a 200-year-old case in which a prison inmate was found guilty for persuading an inmate in a neighboring cell to kill himself before being hanged.
Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Frances Kerry and Dan Grebler