TAUNTON — Michelle Carter, the Plainville woman who coerced her suicidal boyfriend into killing himself after a series of texts and phone calls, went to jail Monday while her legal team pursues an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Carter, 22, showed little emotion as she was led out of a Taunton Juvenile Court room to start her 15-month sentence at the Dartmouth House of Correction. She appeared thinner than her last appearance in court 18 months ago and had cut her hair short.
She was convicted in 2017 of involuntary manslaughter for her role in the July 2014 death of her boyfriend, Conrad Roy III, 18, of Mattapoisett, when she was a 17-year-old senior at King Philip Regional High School.
Roy killed himself in his truck in a Fairhaven parking lot while breathing in toxic fumes from a water pump while on the telephone with Carter. She urged him to get back inside the truck when he stepped out and had second thoughts, a juvenile judge found.
The 15-month sentence is a portion of a 2 1/2 year jail term with the balance suspended with probation. She will be eligible for parole in about eight months, according to her lawyer.
Judge Lawrence Moniz, who convicted Carter in a jury-waived trial, rejected her lawyer’s appeal to extend the stay of her sentence pending an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The state’s Supreme Judicial Court, which last week unanimously upheld her conviction, rejected a stay in an emergency motion Monday morning.
“We’re happy that this is the end of the process for us. We feel justice has been served,” Roy’s aunt, Becky Maki, said outside the court building after the sentencing hearing.
Maki thanked the Bristol County District Attorney’s office and the Fairhaven Police Department and said reliving her nephew’s death during the court proceedings widely covered in the media was painful for the family, many of whom attended pretrial proceedings and the trial.
Maki said the only good aspect of the ordeal was the increased awareness and attention the case brought to mental health, depression and suicide prevention. “We hope no one ever has to feel our pain,” Maki said, dissolving into tears as she hugged Roy’s father, Conrad Roy Jr.
“Today has been a long day coming,” said Assistant District Attorney Maryclare Flynn, who prosecuted Carter.
She thanked the Fairhaven Police Department and Roy’s family for putting their faith in the district attorney’s office for seeking justice for Roy, who had just earned his captain’s license and was following his father into the family’s tugboat business at the time of his suicide.
When asked whether Carter was “mentally prepared” to go to jail, Joseph Cataldo of Franklin, one of her lawyers, said, “I don’t think anyone who is 17 years old undergoing mental health treatment at the time is ever prepared to go to jail three years later or four years later for something that she wasn’t fully cognizant of doing anything wrong at the time.”
Cataldo referred to evidence at the trial that Carter had suffered from an eating disorder and was prescribed medication for depression. Roy had also suffered from depression and made previous attempts at suicide, which Carter and Roy discussed in a long-distance relationship that was primarily confined to text messages and and phone calls.
“She is being put in jail for something he wanted,” Cataldo said.
Cataldo said there are First Amendment free speech issues at the heart of the case that merit review by the U.S. Supreme Court and said other courts across the country have ruled differently on similar issues.
“It’s unfortunate that courts have found the way they have in Massachusetts. But make no mistake about it, this legal fight is not over,” Cataldo said.
If the U.S. Supreme Court accepts the case, the likelihood is that Carter would have completed her sentence by the time they decide the case.
“It will be a tragedy if, ultimately, this case goes to the U.S. Supreme Court and they decide she was wrongfully convicted. She will have done her time. No one will ever give that time back to her. That’s why we stay sentences, particularly short sentences like this. But it’s at the discretion of the court and they decided not to in this case,” Carter appellate lawyer, Daniel Marx of Boston said.
Last week, after the state’s highest court issued it’s decision, Marx said the court’s ruling “stretches the law to assign blame for a tragedy that was not a crime.”
“It has very troubling implications, for free speech, due process, and the exercise of prosecutorial discretion, that should concern us all,” he said.
During a telephone conference between the lawyers in the case and the juvenile court judge, it was disclosed that an unnamed architect, who had written several books on architecture, had asked the Walpole police to prevent Carter from attending a book signing in December.
Flynn brought the matter up and said the probation department never notified the prosecution of the incident. She said she was concerned Carter emailed the architect, told him she was excited to see him and that his designs “made her very happy,” according to a court recording.
But Cataldo said she architect initially did not know who Carter was and when he found out from media reports he did not want to be associated with her.
“That’s a total red herring. There was no issue that she was doing anything inappropriate other than want to go to his book signing and meeting him,” Cataldo said.