February 6, 2019 / 2:57 PM / 8 days ago

Massachusetts manslaughter conviction upheld in teen texting suicide case

BOSTON (Reuters) - Massachusetts’ top court on Wednesday upheld the manslaughter conviction of a woman accused of goading her teenage boyfriend into committing suicide in 2014 with text messages and phone calls, in a case that drew national attention to cyber-bullying.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court agreed with a lower court’s 2017 ruling on Michelle Carter, who prosecutors said urged her 18-year-old boyfriend, Conrad Roy, to kill himself in a parking lot about 60 miles (100 km) south of Boston.

The case, the first in the state to consider manslaughter charges tied to texting, raised concerns among civil liberties advocates who said Carter was being prosecuted for her speech.

But Justice Scott Kafker said the evidence supported a finding that Carter, then 17, “badgered” Roy by phone to get back into a carbon-monoxide filled truck he had stepped out of, after “constantly pressuring” him in text messages to commit suicide.

“The evidence against the defendant proved that, by her wanton or reckless conduct, she caused the victim’s death by suicide,” Kafker wrote for the unanimous seven-member court.

He rejected arguments by Carter, now 22, that her conviction violated her free speech rights under the U.S. Constitution, saying the court was not punishing her for her words alone, but for “reckless or wanton words causing death.”

Daniel Marx, Carter’s lawyer, in a statement called the decision disappointing and said he was considering an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Roy killed himself on July 12, 2014, by filling his parked truck in Fairhaven, Massachusetts, with carbon monoxide from a generator he had hooked up to it.

Prosecutors at trial presented evidence showing that Roy briefly left the vehicle after he began to be overwhelmed by the fumes, but returned after Carter, who spoke with him by phone, urged him to “get back in.”

That instruction was captured in a text message Carter sent to a friend. She had, in earlier text messages, encouraged Roy to “promise” to kill himself and helped him plan the event after he abandoned earlier suicide attempts.

Carter, of Plainville, Massachusetts, was indicted in 2015. She opted against a jury trial, leaving her fate in the hands of Bristol County Juvenile Court Judge Lawrence Moniz, who found her guilty of involuntary manslaughter in June 2017.

Moniz subsequently ordered her to serve 15 months of a 2 1/2-year sentence in prison. Her sentence was on hold while she appealed.

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