TAUNTON — Although Michelle Carter sent dozens of text messages urging her boyfriend to commit suicide, the judge who convicted her of involuntary manslaughter Friday said it was her actions and lack of action that caused his death — not the mean-spirited texts.
Taunton Juvenile Court Judge Lawrence Moniz said Carter of Plainville, then 17, caused the July 2014 death of Conrad Roy III by urging him from 40 miles away to get back inside his truck in a phone call despite knowing the dangers and failing to summon help once he obeyed her.
Roy, of Mattapoisett, used a water pump inside his pickup truck to intentionally fill it with lethal carbon monoxide gas while parked in a Kmart parking lot in Fairhaven. The judge cited evidence in the trial that Roy briefly got out of the truck and told Carter he was scared but that she told him to “get back in.”
“This court finds that instructing Mr. Roy to ‘get back in’ the truck constitutes wanton and reckless conduct by Ms. Carter,” Moniz said, in an explanation of his ruling from the bench.
Noting that she just obtained phone numbers for Roy’s mother and sister days earlier, the judge said Carter had a duty to call someone for help or police. Moniz said Carter knew the danger present and evidence showed she texted friends about how she could hear the noise of the water pump.
“She did not issue a simple additional instruction: Get out of the truck,” Moniz said.
The judge said the chilling texts she sent to Roy from June 29 to July 12 in which she chastised him for delaying killing himself were wanton and reckless but did not cause Roy to commit suicide. He noted that Roy had a prior suicide attempt in 2012, but called a friend for help, and had researched several ways to kill himself.
An involuntary manslaughter charge can be brought in Massachusetts when someone causes the death of another person when engaging in reckless or wanton conduct that creates a high degree of likelihood of substantial harm.
Carter, now 20, broke down in sobs and covered her face with her hands and was comforted by her lawyer Joseph Cataldo of Franklin. Her father, David, seated behind her, put his head down and wept silently. Carter and her parents left the court out a back entrance to avoid the media.
The two dozen members of Roy’s family and friends also cried and held one another.
Carter is free on $5,000 cash bail set when she was indicted in February 2015 pending sentencing on Aug. 3, three weeks before her 21st birthday. She was prohibited from leaving the state and was ordered to have no contact with the Roy family or witnesses in the case.
The judge postponed sentencing to give the probation department time to prepare a report to assist him in fashioning a punishment.
Involuntary manslaughter carries a 20-year maximum sentence, although it is not likely she would receive the maximum penalty.
“We’re very disappointed with the verdict but because the case is still pending for another phase I cannot comment,” Cataldo said.
Roy’s father, Conrad Roy Jr., who wept when the judge read his verdict, told reporters, “This has been a very tough time for our family. I would like time to process the verdict, which we’re happy with, with my family.”
He thanked the prosecutors and investigators in the case.
“Although we are pleased with the verdict, in reality there are no winners here today. Conrad, an 18-year-old boy, is dead, and a young woman is now convicted of causing his death,” Assistant District Attorney Katie Rayburn, the lead prosecutor in the case, told reporters. “Two families are torn apart,” she added, “and will be affected by this case for years to come.”
‘Measure of justice’
Rayburn said she hoped the guilty verdict would bring “some measure of justice” to Roy’s family and “provide some opportunity for closure.”
“This has been an extremely draining and emotional process for everyone involved,” Rayburn said.
The prosecutor thanked the judge for his close attention to the case which she said dealt with a lot of important issues in society. “But in the end, the case was really about one young man and one young woman who were brought together by tragic circumstances,” Rayburn said.
Carter was a senior at King Philip Regional High School when she was charged. She and Roy, who had just become a tugboat captain, met in Florida in 2012 while visiting relatives. Although they saw each other three times, their relationship largely consisted of text messages and emails.
The case, which gained international media attention, dealt with issues of teen depression and eating disorders through thousands of text messages and Facebook exchanges. Evidence in the trial also included videos Roy made of himself talking about his bouts with depression and social anxiety.
During her press conference, Rayburn told anyone who needed help to call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.