PLAINVILLE — The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected the appeal of Michelle Carter, who was found guilty on charges she encouraged her boyfriend to commit suicide in July 2014 through a series of text messages and phone calls.
Carter, 23, of Plainville, is scheduled to be released from jail late next week after serving almost a year of a 15-month sentence for the death of Conrad Roy III of Mattapoisett. She was sentenced last February after the state Supreme Judicial Court unanimously upheld her involuntary manslaughter conviction in the controversial case.
Her lawyer filed a writ of certiorari earlier this year asking the nation’s high court to vacate her conviction. He argued that her texts and calls were protected free speech under the First Amendment.
She was also denied parole earlier this year.
The U.S. Supreme Court is asked to review about 7,000 cases each year and accepts only about 2 percent of the petitions, according to legal experts.
Carter’s case has garnered national attention and sparked legislative proposals in Massachusetts to criminalize suicide coercion.
Carter was 17 when she texted and called Roy, 18, encouraging him to kill himself in his pickup truck in a Fairhaven parking lot. Roy, who had previously tried to kill himself, breathed in toxic fumes from a gas-powered water pump.
Although the pair rarely met in person, they shared an intimate texting and telephone relationship and shared feelings over their mutual mental health problems. In a decision heavily criticized by free speech advocates, the state SJC found that Carter was “virtually present” at the time of Roy’s death, even though she was 40 miles away.
A Taunton Juvenile Court judge found that Carter sapped Roy’s will and convinced him during a phone call to get back inside the truck when he apparently had second thoughts about taking his life.
There is no record of the actual verbal conversation, but Carter told a friend afterwards that she could hear the water pump and Roy moaning, telling the friend she felt responsible.
In a statement, Bristol County District Attorney Thomas Quinn III said he was very pleased Carter’s petition was denied by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“This, once again, justifies the decision to charge the defendant with manslaughter based on existing Massachusetts law, which is well-established. The validity of charging her has been vindicated by numerous judges at every step of the criminal justice process — including twice by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, which voted unanimously to uphold the conviction,” Quinn said.
“The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision today brings closure to the family of Conrad Roy for his tragic death. I hope that the finality of this decision brings some solace to them,” he said.
One of Carter’s lawyers, Joseph Cataldo of Franklin, lamented Monday’s court decision and said they are deciding what to do next.
"The U.S. Supreme Court not accepting Michelle Carter's petition at this time is unfortunate. Clearly many legal scholars and many in the legal community understand the dangers created by the unprecedented decision of the Massachusetts court. To that end we will be weighing our next steps in correcting this injustice,” Cataldo said in a statement.
Matthew Segal, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, called Roy's suicide "indisputably tragic" and said the organization thoughts continue to be with his family and friends. The ACLU is concerned about the First Amendment implications of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court's decision in Carter's case, Segal said.
"Encouraging speech, without more, should not be prosecuted as homicide. The Supreme Court’s order denying certiorari in the Carter case is neither a decision on the merits nor an endorsement of the Supreme Judicial Court’s reasoning,” Segal said.
In Carter’s petition, the lawyers argued that her words could not constitute “criminal conduct” since she did not do anything other than text and talk on the phone to Roy.
They urged the court to take up the case because Carter’s conviction conflicted with recent decisions by supreme courts in three other states. Prosecutors argued that there was no conflict and no free speech issues.
Carter is due to get out of jail late next week after serving almost a year because she has earned “good time” behind bars and has participated in jailhouse programs, according to Jonathan Darling, a spokesman for Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson.
“We haven’t had any problems with her. She’s been pretty much a model inmate during her time here,” Darling said.
Carter’s 15-month sentence was the committed portion of a 2 1/2-year jail sentence.
The balance of the sentence was suspended with probation.