Michelle Carter Sentencing

Michelle Carter with her lawyer during her trial.

PLAINVILLE -- The texting-suicide trial of Michelle Carter attracted nationwide attention for many reasons.

There were the shocking text messages Carter, then a 17-year-old King Philip Regional High School senior, sent to 18-year-old Conrad Roy III of Mattapoisett, urging him to kill himself and chastising him when he appeared to have second thoughts.

It also attracted the attention of legal observers and civil libertarians, who criticized the case on freedom of speech grounds. They argued a person should not be held responsible for the death of another person for mere words in a state that has no law against urging someone to take his own life.

Carte, was a lonely high school senior with an eating disorder brought together with Roy, a troubled Mattapoisett man searching for his way in the world while fighting depression.

The pair, both of whom were prescribed medication for depression, had a mostly online relationship in which they shared their most intimate thoughts.

Roy, who made a previous suicide attempt, killed himself in July 2014 after a series of mean-spirited text messages from Carter -- who was at her home 40 miles away -- urging him to carry out his plan to succumb to carbon monoxide poisoning.

She was indicted for involuntary manslaughter in February 2015 after a persistent Fairhaven detective looked into the text messages he found on Roy's cellphone that led him and his partner to Carter.

Carter, now 21, was convicted on June 18 by a judge who heard the case. She was sentenced to serve 15 months of a 2 1/2-year jail term but is free on bail while she appeals her case in state courts.

In a surprise move, Carter opted to waive a jury trial and have a judge decide her fate on the belief, legal observers say, that a judge would not be swayed by emotion.

During the trial, prosecutors depicted Carter as a manipulative high schooler who used Roy's death to gain sympathy for herself and attention from friends. The defense sought to portray her as a girl whose judgment was affected by anti-depression medication and who was burdened by trying to help Roy with his depression.

In one of the texts, Carter urges Roy to go to a parking lot where he would be less likely to draw attention and to follow through on the plan when Roy seems hesitant.

Carter: You’re so hesitant because you keeping over thinking it and keep pushing it off. You just need to do it, Conrad. The more you push it off, the more it will eat at you. You’re ready and prepared. All you have to do is turn the generator on and you will be free and happy. No more pushing it off. No more waiting.

Later, Roy makes plans to do it.

Roy: Okay. I’m gonna do it today.

Carter: You promise?

Roy: I promise, babe. I have to now.

Carter: Like right now?

Roy: Where do I go?

Carter: And you can’t break a promise. And just go in a quiet parking lot or something.

Roy killed himself in a parking lot off Route 6 in Fairhaven.

In explaining his decision, Taunton Juvenile Court Judge Lawrence Moniz said Carter was aware of Roy's plans and urged him during a phone call to get back in the lethal-fume filled truck when Roy had second thoughts.

Moniz, who cited other legal precedents, said Carter was aware of the danger and failed to summon help when Roy got back in the truck. Phone records indicated Carter was on the phone with Roy when he died.

“This court finds that instructing Mr. Roy to ‘get back in’ the truck constitutes wanton and reckless conduct by Ms. Carter,” Moniz said.

Prosecutors had argued that Carter was "virtually present" when Roy killed himself. Teenagers and others use the now ubiquitous smartphones in the modern age to share their lives and fall in love.

The defense argued that there was no law in Massachusetts against urging someone to kill themselves and that Roy alone was responsible.

Free speech advocates saw the ruling as “dangerous precedent” with the state's chapter of the ACLU saying it stretched the boundaries of criminal laws and abandoned constitutional protections.

David Linton may be reached at 508-236-0338.

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