On July 13, 2014, Conrad Roy was preparing to die. The troubled young man – who had long battled mental health issues – had parked his truck at a Kmart in Fairhaven, Massachusetts, and it was there that he intended to take his own life. But then, before the carbon monoxide that had poured into the vehicle finally overwhelmed him, Roy seemingly changed his mind.
Once the teenager had jumped out of the truck, however, his girlfriend, Michelle Carter, encouraged him to get back inside. And after Roy was found deceased, Carter’s part in his suicide would provoke a firestorm of debate across the U.S. Ultimately, then, the case would go to court – and it was there that the real facts about the tragedy were revealed.
Carter and Roy’s relationship had started off as a sweet romance – albeit one between two teens who each had a history of fragile mental health. Both were natives of Massachusetts, and Roy was almost a year older than Carter, who was just 17 at the time of her boyfriend’s death.
And even though Carter and Roy lived in the same state, the couple actually first encountered each other in Florida in 2012. They didn’t often meet face to face after that, mind you, with their budding liaison going on to almost exclusively play out via email and text.
It’s also fair to say that both teenagers had been through problems in their young lives. Carter, for instance, had experienced an eating disorder and was known to have self-harmed. As part of her treatment, then, she had been prescribed medication that Dr. Peter R. Breggin – a witness for the defense at her trial – would ultimately claim had left her “intoxicated.”
Roy had his own issues, too. Although he shone both at sports and in class, he had long suffered from social anxiety and depression. And it was later revealed in court that he had received some treatment for his mental health issues; he’d been through therapy, for example, and had taken an antidepressant for an extended period of time.
Roy also apparently took his parents’ divorce badly, as in fall 2012 he went on to express the desire to take his own life. Carter was there for support, however, and she initially tried to coax her fellow teenager out of considering suicide. It wouldn’t be the last time that she attempted to console her boyfriend, either.
In June 2014 – just weeks before Roy’s suicide – Carter again advised her boyfriend against doing anything drastic. “The mental hospital would help you. I know you don’t think it would, but I’m telling you: if you give them a chance, they can save your life,” she texted.
After Roy replied that treatment “doesn’t help,” though, Carter offered a harsh riposte. “So, what are you gonna do, then? Keep being all talk and no action and every day go through saying how badly you wanna kill yourself? Or are you gonna try to get better?” she asked.
But Roy’s response was worrying. “I can’t get better. I already made my decision,” he wrote to Carter. Yet Carter seemingly didn’t give up, as she continued to keep in contact with Roy in the days leading up to his death. The teenager even tried to warn Roy off doing himself any serious injury.
On June 23, 2014, for example, Carter and Roy embarked on another troubling conversation. “How do you want to harm yourself?” Carter asked of her boyfriend. And while Roy claimed that he hadn’t yet chosen a method, he followed that up with a message that was seemingly full of anguish. “I hate myself. I’ll always hate myself, I’m never gonna view myself as good. I’m so far behind,” he wrote.
So, once more, Carter apparently attempted to deter Roy from his planned course of action. “What is harming yourself gonna do? Nothing! It will make it worse!” she explained. Yet the young man responded by mentioning what he claimed Carter had already told him. “Make the pain go away, like you said,” he replied.
Carter had strong words for Roy, however. She claimed instead that self-harm would only “make the pain go away temporarily,” adding to her boyfriend, “When you’re done, you’ll just regret it and feel even worse!” All in all, then, Carter appeared to be looking out for Roy’s best interests.
But when Roy died by suicide just a matter of weeks later, Carter’s role in his passing would be called into question. Thanks to the conversation that had apparently taken place between the pair at the time of the tragedy, you see, it was argued that the teen girl had been an encouraging force behind Roy’s decision to take his own life.
And when Carter was arraigned in February 2015, prosecutors asserted that a crime had been committed in the process. “Carter assisted (Roy) in committing suicide by counseling him to overcome his doubts and pressuring him to commit suicide in the short term,” a statement released by New Bedford Juvenile Court read.
Carter’s case made waves, too – not least because the circumstances surrounding it were highly unusual. The teenager’s defense attorneys were naturally aware of this fact, and this led them to go on to argue for leniency on her part. The legal professionals wrote, “Massachusetts would be the only state to uphold an involuntary manslaughter conviction where an absent defendant, with words alone, encouraged another person to commit suicide.”
But as those words suggest, Carter was not actually with Roy when he ended his own life. Instead, then, the trial focused on the messages sent between Carter and Roy in the weeks and days leading up to his death. And perhaps the most pivotal piece of evidence was an alleged phone call that apparently took place between the pair as Roy’s car was filling up with poisonous fumes.
That said, some of the texts could have been interpreted as being rather damning for Carter. On July 7. 2014, for instance, she and Roy began discussing methods to produce deadly carbon monoxide. “Well, there’s more ways to make CO. Google ways to make it,” Carter told her boyfriend. And, of course, Roy would ultimately die as a result of carbon monoxide inhalation.
The following day, Carter even seemed to press the matter further. “So, are you sure you don’t wanna [kill yourself] tonight?” she asked Roy. And while at this stage the teenage boy was expressing doubts about going through with his plan, his girlfriend offered to lend moral support of a kind. “I’ll stay up with you if you wanna do it tonight,” she wrote.
“You can’t keep pushing [suicide] off, though. That’s all you keep doing,” Carter added in her text exchange. Then, four days later, she wrote to Roy, “So I guess you aren’t gonna do it, then – all that for nothing. I’m just confused – like, you were so ready and determined.”
It appeared, in fact, that Carter was exasperated with Roy’s indecisiveness. “I thought you wanted to do this,” she wrote on the evening of July 11, 2014. “The time is right, and you’re ready. You just need to do it! You can’t keep living this way. You just need to do it like you did last time and not think about it.”
And when Roy apparently tried to end a conversation on July 12 by claiming that he was going to return to bed, Carter steered the topic back towards suicide. “It’s probably the best time [to do it] now because everyone’s sleeping. Just go somewhere in your truck. And no one’s really out right now because it’s an awkward time,” she explained.
What’s more, in a flurry of further messages on July 12, Roy claimed that he was going to go ahead with his suicide. “Do you promise?” Carter responded. “You can’t break a promise. And just go in a quiet parking lot or something,” Carter concluded. Disturbingly, Roy’s body was indeed found in a parking lot.
Then in June 2017 – nearly three years after Roy’s death – Carter’s case finally came to trial. And the young woman – now 20 years old – had decided not to go with a jury trial, leaving Judge Lawrence Moniz to oversee the proceedings held at Taunton, Massachusetts’ New Bedford Juvenile Court.
Judge Moniz was therefore the one whom both the defense and prosecution had to convince. And as it happens, one vital piece of evidence would reportedly make the difference between Carter being held culpable for Roy’s suicide and any acquittal. Thanks to the testimony on the matter, in fact, the judge ultimately came to his ruling.
You see, while Roy had been in his truck and in the process of ending his life, he had shared a phone call with his girlfriend. And while there are no records of what was said during the conversation, prosecutors in the case relied upon the contents of a text message about the exchange that Carter had sent to a friend following Roy’s death.
Revealingly, Carter had written in her text to former high school buddy Samantha Boardman, “Sam, [Roy’s] death is my fault… Honestly, I could have stopped him. I was on the phone with him, and he got out of the car because it was working. And he got scared, and I f**king told him to get back in.”
Not only did Judge Moniz consider this exchange to be telling of Carter’s intentions, but he also noted that Carter had neglected to inform Roy’s family of what their son was doing. The teenager hadn’t called 911, either. And the adjudicator would go on to declare that Carter had encouraged Roy to return to the truck despite the fumes making the interior “inconsistent with human life.”
When the judge reached his conclusion, then, it hardly fell in Carter’s favor. He explained, “This court has found that Carter’s actions and failure to act where it was her self-created duty to Roy, since she put him in that toxic environment, constituted reckless conduct. The court finds that the conduct caused the death of Mr. Roy.”
On June 16, 2017, Michelle Carter was therefore deemed to be guilty of involuntary manslaughter. After the verdict was handed down, however, Northeastern University professor Daniel Medwed expressed his doubt about the soundness of the conviction. He told the Los Angeles Times, “When many of us read [Carter’s] text messages, our stomachs churn and we want her to be held accountable – but that doesn’t mean it is manslaughter.”
Medwed continued of Carter’s prosecution, “It always struck me as a reach.” Nevertheless, the academic did seemingly concede that the case had some merit, adding, “The classic form of manslaughter is the driver who strikes a pedestrian or the person who shoots into a crowd… The judge was basically updating manslaughter as a doctrine to apply to contemporary circumstances. The text communications were in a sense the metaphorical gun.”
And while Carter and her team appealed the decision by invoking the First Amendment, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ultimately upheld the verdict in February 2019. Judge Moniz also handed down a sentence of 15 months’ incarceration and five years of probation, with the prison time to be spent at the Bristol County Jail and House of Correction.
In 2019, however, a documentary was released that shed further light on Carter’s case. I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth vs. Michelle Carter was aired on HBO in July that year, with Erin Lee Carr’s two-part film delving deeper into the psychological make-up of the defendant herself.
Intriguingly, Carr’s work also looked into the story that Carter was an ardent fan of the Fox musical series Glee. In the documentary, it emerged, for example, that the teen was fond of quoting dialog from the show in her texts to Roy. One theory even suggested that Carter had been influenced by the death of Glee star Cory Monteith and the way in which his on- and off-screen girlfriend Lea Michele had conducted herself after his passing.
In essence, it’s been said, Carter had wanted to play the grieving girlfriend herself. And the young woman arguably cast herself in that role when organizing a baseball tournament to raise money in honor of Roy. “Even though I could not save my boyfriend’s life, I want to put myself out there to try to save as many other lives as possible,” she wrote on Facebook.
Yet Carr also sought to hold the perception of Carter as a manipulator up to the light. In July 2019 she told Fox News, “I think it was a very clear and simple narrative that Michelle Carter is a beautiful, privileged white girl who killed a young man to become popular. It’s something that we easily attach to as a society. We have troubling thoughts about teenage girls and [believe] that they are coercive.”
Carr continued, “But I think that as we examined the case and looked at the court documents and filmed the trial, that just wasn’t true… What I think the film is really about is deconstructing that narrative.” And co-producer Alison Byrne felt that it was important to remind viewers of some of the context to the case. “I just want people to remember that these two kids were kids,” she explained.
Byrne added of Carter, “And yet, suddenly, as soon as a crime is committed, it’s like, ‘She knew exactly what she was doing.’ Because she was tried in adult court, suddenly everyone could know her name, and she deals with the court of public opinion as well as the justice system itself. She’s a kid, and [Roy] was a kid. It’s really important to remember that.”
Byrne went on, “At first, it looks like [Carter’s] just this mean girl… But then we also learned so much more about her own struggles with mental health. I think I was surprised at how much sympathy I could have with her and go back and forth, really, with my opinions about her.”
All in all, then, I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth vs. Michelle Carter apparently looks to explore the ramifications of prosecuting a suicide. “As young filmmakers, we really wanted to think about, you know, ‘What does texting mean? What does it mean if you text somebody to kill themselves? Are we responsible for people who are in our lives?’” Carr explained in the same interview with Fox News. Ultimately, though, those questions may be ones that viewers have to answer themselves.