TAUNTON — Michelle Carter will be able to celebrate her 21st birthday next week as a free woman — and maybe more in the future, depending on the outcome of her appeals.
Carter, the Plainville woman convicted of involuntary manslaughter for encouraging her boyfriend to commit suicide in July 2014, was sentenced Thursday to serve 15 months of a 2 1/2-year jail term. But her sentence was stayed pending appeals in state courts, and she is free on $5,000 cash bail, with conditions including not using social media.
Carter, a King Philip Regional High School graduate, will have to serve her sentence only if she loses her appeals. The balance of the jail term was suspended for five years with probation with several conditions and an order preventing her from profiting from the crime.
Taunton Juvenile Court Judge Lawrence Moniz, the same judge who found Carter guilty in a widely publicized jury-waived trial in June, said he agreed to the defense’s request for a delay in imposing the jail sentence because he thought the legal issues raised in the case were worthy of appellate review.
Her immediate avenues of appeal are the Massachusetts Appeals Court and the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. When asked where he would file, Carter’s lead attorney, Joseph Cataldo of Franklin, said he was still sorting out plans for the appeal.
Cataldo said he did not know how long the appeals process would take. “It could take months or years,” he told reporters outside the courthouse.
In a case closely watched by civil liberties activists among others, the case raised legal debate about free speech under the First Amendment and whether a person can be held criminally responsible in Massachusetts for encouraging or assisting someone to kill themselves.
“We don’t think a law was broken. Massachusetts doesn’t have an assisted suicide law on the books,” Cataldo said, adding that issue and free speech would be the main grounds of appeal.
Carter was convicted of causing the death of 18-year-old Conrad Roy III of Mattapoisett, telling him in a phone call from her home 40 miles away to “get back in” his pickup truck as it filled with lethal carbon monoxide gas.
Roy, who suffered from depression and social anxiety issues, had placed a gas-powered water pump inside his truck but got out and expressed his fears to Carter during the phone call from a Fairhaven parking lot.
Prosecutors say evidence showed Carter, then 17, was on the phone with Roy when he got back in and died. Carter told friends later that she could have stopped him or called police, according to trial testimony.
“The defendant’s conduct in this case was egregious and ultimately caused the death of Conrad Roy,” Assistant District Attorney Maryclare Flynn said in a press conference.
She said Carter “undertook a systematic campaign of coercion” and exploited Roy’s fears and anxieties. In court, Flynn said Carter “has shown no remorse. In fact, after Conrad’s death it was quite the opposite. She sought attention and sympathy for herself.”
The pair met in Florida in 2012 but their relationship was mostly carried out long distance through thousands of texts and phone calls. Several weeks before Roy killed himself, Carter encouraged him to commit suicide when he talked about killing himself and berated him when he delayed his plans, prosecutors said.
Carter held a “Homers for Conrad” softball fundraiser in her hometown to gain attention and sympathy after Roy’s suicide, Flynn said, and manipulated and deceived Roy’s family about what really happened.
Her plot may have gone undetected, Flynn added, had it not been for Fairhaven police, who pursued the matter.
“All she had to do was tell him to get out of the car, get out of the truck, and we wouldn’t be here right now,” said Flynn, who recommended that the judge impose a far harsher 7- to 10-year prison sentence.
During his argument in court, Cataldo said his client suffered her own mental health issues, including anorexia and bulimia. He said Carter expressed remorse and regret in a letter to the probation department. He recommended five years of probation.
Carter graduated from King Philip Regional High School in Wrentham after being charged. She was accepted to go to college, Cataldo said, but did not because of the notoriety of her case. She instead took online courses and hoped to follow her mother’s career in real estate, he said.
Before the judge handed down his sentence, he heard the victim-impact statements of Roy’s younger sister, Camdyn, now 16, and his father Conrad Roy Jr.
“Not a day goes by without him being my last thought going to bed and my first thought waking up,” Camdyn Roy said, breaking down in tears on the stand.
Roy’s father, a tug boat captain who watched his son follow in his tracks, said his son was his best friend. Using a nickname for his son, Roy said, “Coco was my first mate.”
He called his son a loving and compassionate person whom he thought was getting over the worst of his depression.
“Miss Carter exploited my son’s weaknesses and used him as a pawn for her own well-being,” Roy said.
In a statement Flynn read, Roy’s mother, Lynn Roy, said, “I pray that his death will save lives some day.”
Members of both families declined to comment.
Carter, who entered the court building amid shouts of people saying “kill yourself,” was tearful at times during the proceedings. She was whisked out of the building after the proceedings.