Death by Text: Michelle Carter Found Guilty


By C.W.S.

By now, most people are familiar with the case of Conrad Roy III’s suicide, which came while he was texting and speaking on the phone with his girlfriend, Michelle Carter. Carter is famous now for encouraging Roy to end his own life in a far, dark corner of a Kmart parking lot, using a hose to pump carbon monoxide into his truck. With the guilty verdict announced this week, Carter faces up to 20 years in prison for involuntary manslaughter, a conviction that sets a new and controversial precedent in Massachusetts’ courts. Critics argue that though Carter’s text messages and comments were reprehensible, they do not add up to manslaughter, as she was not physically present at the time. “This is saying that what she did is killing him, that her words literally killed him, that the murder weapon here was her words,” noted lawyer Matthew Segal of the state’s ACLU.

As the psychological profile has been created and spread through the media, we have 21-year-old Michelle Carter, who was 17 at the time of 18-year-old Roy’s suicide. The defense presented thousands of text messages from Carter to Roy and other friends, and alleged that Carter was planning on using Roy’s suicide as a platform to gain attention and sympathy from the popular girls at her high school.

Conrad Roy III

Conrad Roy III

Roy and Carter initially connected on issues of mental health after meeting in Florida while on family vacations. They discovered that they both lived in Massachusetts, about an hour apart. They had only met in person three times when Roy ended his life, but they had a rich, intense text and phone relationship that including many conversations around Roy’s depression and suicidal ideation, as well as Carter’s own struggles with bulimia and depression. In earlier texts, Carter attempted to encourage Roy to get help, including these sent in June: "You need professional help like me” and “Have you thought about getting professional help? I think it will really help you.”

The defense argued that Carter underwent a dramatic personality shift in early July due to a new regiment of anti-depressants started months before. Because of the switch from Prozac to Celexa, psychiatrist Dr. Peter R. Breggin testified on the stand, “She was enmeshed in a delusional system. She’s thinking it’s a good thing to help him die.” They argued that Roy was already well underway in his personal plan to end his life, citing his four previous suicide attempts, including one that Carter experienced.

Starting in early July, here are some of the text exchanges used as evidence by the defense:

Carter: "Are you gonna do it tonight?
Roy: "I'm gonna try."
Carter: "How hard are you gonna try?"
Roy: "Hard."

Roy: "How was ur day?"
Carter: "When are you doing it?" 

Roy: "What if the suffocation doesn't work?"
Carter: "Well how bad do you want it? Because if you want it bad, you should succeed."

Carter: "I thought you really wanted to die but apparently you don't. I feel played and just stupid." 

Carter: "I still don’t think ur gonna do this so you have to prove me wrong." 

Carter: "I'm tired of you not taking this seriously, like if you aren't really gonna do it then stop pretending that you are."

Carter: "Hang yourself, jump off a building, stab yourself. IDK there's lots of ways."

Carter: “I think your parents know you’re in a really bad place. I’m not saying they want you to do it but I honestly feel like they can accept it.” 

And then Carter, speaking with Roy the night of his death, as he fills his car with toxic fumes: "I'm not going to sleep until you're in the car with the generator on." Roy hesitates, gets out of the car. He calls Carter.

The exact moment that Carter tells Roy to get back into the car is not recorded through the text exchanges that night. This is because Roy and Carter spoke on the phone. In a text sent after she became aware of the investigation against her, Carter said this to a friend, as recounted by the prosecution: “Conrad got out of his truck. he got scared. The defendant 'f------ told him to get back in.”

This was the key piece of evidence, a confession to a friend that Carter had push Roy to the final act of dying.

"If they read my messages to him, I'm done," she texted to another friend later in the week.

Soon after his death, Carter then set up an anti-suicide memorial baseball game in Roy’s honor. Even though I could not save my boyfriend’s life,” she wrote the Facebook page, “I want to put myself out there to try to save as many other lives as possible.”

BuzzFeed noticed something strange—many of Carter’s texts and social media posts seemed to mirror the dialogue of her favorite show, Glee, especially Rachel’s (Lea Michele) dialogue in “The Quarterback,” a 2013 episode about the death of Rachel’s boyfriend Finn (Cory Monteith). 

Monteith was Michele’s boyfriend off screen as well as on, and the episode held much real emotion, as Monteith had overdosed and died months before, prompting the episode to be made. Carter spoke often about her love of Lea Michele, and her sympathy around the tragic death of her boyfriend. 

"We were endgame we both knew it, he didn’t need to tell anyone that," Carter wrote.

In Season a season four episode titled "I Do," Finn tells Rachel, "We are endgame. I know that and you know that."

Like Dee Dee Blancharde, who convinced the world that her daughter, Gypsy Rose, was extremely physically and mentally challenged (and was subsequently murderer by her daughter, read more here), it appears that Carter was also seeking attention through harming someone close to her. Psychologists diagnosed Dee Dee Blancharde with Munchausen by proxy, a disorder characterized by fabricating or inducing illness in someone under their care for the purpose of attention and sympathy. The prosecution claimed that Carter wanted these things from her peers, and was willing to demand a suicide from her boyfriend to get it.

It appears that these types of cases will become more and more prevalent as we move forward in our virtual world. As our access to one another changes, the ways we communicate, as well our collective psychology, psychological disorders and the crimes they create will change form as well.

The images we are able to create through online profiles have changed the way some young people see themselves and the world. Plenty of people lie online to gain attention, but Michelle Carter took that idea and applied it to her real life. She was willing to help someone die so she could be seen as a grieving girlfriend, much like her hero, Lea Michele. Michele herself experienced a heartbreaking clash of reality and fiction when she acted out her real grief on Glee. She was a fictional character mourning a real boy. Sound familiar?

Carter is facing up to 20 years in prison, and will be sentenced in August.