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SJC hears case of teen who allegedly encouraged friend to kill himself

The Boston Globe logo The Boston Globe 8/04/2016 Andy Rosen
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An attorney for Michelle Carter on Thursday asked the state’s highest court to halt the prosecution against her for allegedly encouraging a friend to kill himself, arguing that she should not have been charged because her actions did not directly cause the death.

Carter has been charged with involuntary manslaughter in the July 2014 death of Conrad Roy III, 18, of Mattapoisett, whose body was found in his truck in a store parking lot in Fairhaven. Carter was 17 at the time.

In oral arguments before the Supreme Judicial Court, Carter’s attorney Dana Alan Curhan told the high court that the verbal encouragement to commit suicide, “no matter how forceful the encouragement, does not constitute a crime in Massachusetts.”

Michelle Carter. © Peter Pereira/The New Bedford Standard Times via AP/file 2014 Michelle Carter. Judges asked questions throughout the half-hour hearing that focused on the legal borders of speech that motivates a person to harm himself or herself. At several points, members of the court asked about “the line” at which such an action constitutes criminal manslaughter.

Carter’s lawyers had argued in court papers that she “committed no affirmative act resulting in Roy’s death, nor did she have any duty to protect him from self-harm.” She is being tried as a youthful offender and has pleaded not guilty

Prosecutors say the texts show Michelle Carter brainstorming with Conrad Henri Roy over the best way for him to kill himself.

The defense argued that the Legislature has not “criminalized words encouraging someone to commit suicide.”

In court, Curhan agreed with the justices that his client’s actions had not been commendable. However, he said, “telling him to do it was not the cause.”

“He then physically got back in the truck with the intention of taking his life, and he sat there until the fumes overcame him,” Curhan said, contending that Carter had not threatened or coerced Roy.

But Shoshana Stern, an assistant district attorney in Bristol County, countered at the court hearing that Carter was “way over the line” of criminality when she encouraged Roy by phone to get back in the truck.

She said the previous interactions between the teens strengthened the state’s case, making clear that her encouragements could be read as threats.

“I think she made it clear in her conversations with him from prior discussions that she would be deeply disappointed in him if he didn’t carry through, she would be angry with him, and she also said if you don’t do this, I’m going to get you help,” Stern said.

Getting help may sound positive to a casual observer, she said, but in the context of their relationship it was clear that he “feared that deeply.” And “did not think hospitals would help.”

Roy’s grandfather Dave Bozzi said in an interview that he does not believe there is any doubt that Carter is responsible for his grandson’s death.

Though some family members are following the court proceedings closely, Bozzi is not. Bozzi says he fears the result will not bring justice for Roy, but he hopes Carter will face consequences in the case.

“If you love somebody, you try to discourage them from doing something like that. You don’t encourage them,” he said. “They can throw all the psychobabble at it that they want. I don’t care.”

■ If you or anyone you know is suffering from depression, call Lifeline on  0800 543 354 or (09) 522 2999 within Auckland

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