Michelle Carter suicide texting case: Inside the groundbreaking trial
Produced by Ruth Chenetz, Jamie Stolz, Marcelena Spencer, Liza Finley and Susan Mallie.
[This story previously aired on January 18, 2020. It was updated on May 28, 2022.]
Michelle Carter, convicted of the manslaughter of her friend Conrad Roy, was released from jail in January 2020, three months early for good conduct..
After 18-year-old Conrad Roy took his own life in July 2014, investigators found thousands of texts from Carter on his phone, many of them encouraging him to kill himself.
Carter and Roy met in 2012. Though they lived an hour apart in Massachusetts, they communicated almost exclusively via texts, online and by phone. The case, which was being followed nationwide, hinged on the power of words – Michelle Carter’s words – and whether they could be deadly.
At the heart of the case was the question of whether Carter’s texts and messages pushed Roy to take his life, or if he would have done it anyway?
One month before 18-year-old Conrad Roy took his own life, when the minds of many teens wander to carefree summer days, Conrad’s thoughts were more serious and introspective:
Conrad Roy [on video talking to computer]: It’s not realistic what’s going on in my head that keeps on piling and piling and piling.
Conrad Roy [on video talking to computer]: I need to be comfortable in my skin.
Sitting at his computer in his home in Fairhaven, Massachusetts, Conrad recorded his thoughts on coping with his depression.
Conrad Roy [on video talking to computer]: I need to relax. I really do.
Lynn Roy: He wanted to excel. He was — just wanted to … be this, like, great person. But in my eyes, he was all that.
Conrad’s mother, Lynn Roy, explains that her son could be his own toughest critic.
Lynn Roy: He was rough on himself. …he really, really struggled with — just disappointing I think myself and his dad.
Conrad Roy [on video talking to computer]: The sooner I like myself, the better I’ll be
Lynn Roy thought her son was feeling better; he was getting professional help and was on an antidepressant, Celexa. He’d been licensed to be tug boat captain, like his dad, and had just graduated high school. College, with a scholarship, was on the horizon.
Lynn Roy: He was doing everything that was positive, that was, you know, lookin’ towards his future.
But, on July 12, 2014, Conrad drove to a parking lot, and using a gasoline-powered water pump, sat in his pickup truck as it filled with carbon monoxide, knowingly inhaling the deadly fumes, killing himself. All the while, his friend, Michelle Carter, then 17, was encouraging Conrad, from more than 30 miles away on her phone, to take his own life.
Lynn Roy: I don’t understand why would you want someone that was so beautiful inside and out, that had so much — that was such a kind person to die.
Erin Moriarty: How do you describe what this young woman did?
Lynn Roy: I cannot. Only — only she — she can.
The intersection of the lives of Conrad Roy and Michelle Carter has left a trail of heartbreak and questions about the circumstances that led to such a tragic death.
Lynn Roy: He’s one of the kindest persons. …he grew up very sensitive. …Very humble and kind.
Erin Moriarty: Happy child?
Lynn Roy: Very happy. Many pictures of him smiling, laughing. …until he — became a teenager and I don’t know if it was the hormones … He just, you know, became anxious.
Conrad was the oldest child in the family, with two sisters, Morgan and Camdyn. Lynn and Conrad’s father separated when Conrad was 16 – and their divorce hit him especially hard.
Lynn Roy: Think he was just more worried about me. That’s what boys do. They worry about their moms — a lot.
Conrad would confide in his friend Aryanna Taylor as they spent hours walking along the water.
Aryanna Taylor: The lighthouse is beautiful and you have a clear view of, like, the ocean around you. And we would just go there and hang out.
The setting was beautiful, but sometimes, the talk turned dark.
Aryanna Taylor: He didn’t really — wasn’t able to explain it to me in a way that I could understand. So he kind of just described it as like a “darkness” … And how there would be — times where he just kind of wanted to isolate himself from everybody.
Conrad’s anxiety and self doubt had troubled Lynn since he was 16.
Lynn Roy: He’s — he started havin’ trouble sleeping — and we got him treated at hospitals. And then he had his first — suicide– attempt a year after. The age of 17.
Conrad had overdosed on acetaminophen.
Lynn Roy: I worked in a psychiatric hospital and I never at — at that time never imagined that one of my children would have those feelings.
Erin Moriarty: And do you think he really intended to kill himself at that point?=
Lynn Roy: He did contact a friend, so.
That friend was Aryanna.
Aryanna Taylor: He told me that he was really sick and that his mom had just left and that he wanted her to come back.
Aryanna immediately got in touch with Conrad’s parents, who brought him to the hospital.
Lynn Roy: He told me, “Mom, I will never do that again.” He was sorry. And I was sorry as well that he felt that way.
Erin Moriarty to Aryanna: The fact that he wanted you to call his mother — what does that say to you?
Aryanna Taylor: It just says that he was calling out for help, that he didn’t actually mean what he was doing, but he really needed help and that this was the only way he kind of thought that he would really get help.
And that help seemed to be working.
Aryanna Taylor: He actually was getting a lot better. …He told me about how he was going out and he was going to, like, you know, the high school parties and just hanging out with everybody. I was, like, “that’s amazing.”
Michelle Carter was another friend of Conrad’s. They met in 2012, while both were vacationing in Florida. Conrad and his sisters were visiting relatives, who happened to know Michelle.
Erin Moriarty: How would you describe Michelle? Friendly?
Camdyn Roy: Yeah. She was, like, really friendly. And she always, like, laughed, I remember. Like, she always made Conrad laugh.
As it turned out, Michelle lived just a few towns over from the Roy’s in Massachusetts, and the relationship continued after the vacation. But, while Michelle called Conrad her boyfriend, his family says the two rarely saw each other, and, like so many teens, their interactions were mostly over text messages.
Erin Moriarty: Had your son ever mentioned Michelle Carter?
Lynn Roy: Yes … After they met in Florida. …I met her in 2013 at his baseball game … and that was the only time I ever met her. Second time was at his wake.
Erin Moriarty: Did she even make an impression on you initially?
Lynn Roy: No. I didn’t think anything.
Michelle and Conrad shared something in common that Lynn did not know. Michelle had her own struggles, including an eating disorder, and both teens, at times, took antidepressants.
Ed McFarland: You know, probably the attraction was they both had their issues.
Softball coach Ed McFarland has known Michelle Carter and her family for a decade. The Michelle he knows is an ideal teammate.
Ed McFarland: I’ve never seen her do a mean thing. I’ve never seen her be mean.
Erin Moriarty: Other kids like her?
Ed McFarland: Yeah. Yeah. …never heard a cross word or … anything of that nature.
And Michelle’s high school yearbook paints a picture of an active, well-liked student—one voted “class clown” and “most likely to brighten your day.” But that would not be how her actions would be described on the last day of Conrad’s life.
That day started out seemingly happy for Conrad, spending time with his family.
Erin Moriarty: That morning on the 12th, what was his mood like?
Lynn Roy: It was fine. He wanted — you know, go to the beach with the girls.
While there, Camdyn, at one point, noticed her brother sitting alone, texting.
Erin Moriarty: And did you know who he was texting with?
Camdyn Roy: No.
Erin Moriarty: Now, you think he was texting with Michelle Carter?
Camdyn Roy: Yeah.
Erin Moriarty: But you didn’t know that at the time. And what was his demeanor?
Camdyn Roy: I don’t know. He’s — I don’t know. He kinda seemed, like, anxious.
Conrad then took his sisters out for ice cream, where his mood seemed to lift.
Erin Moriarty: When you think back on that, would you have ever guessed there was anything wrong that afternoon?
Camdyn and Morgan Roy: No.
After going home, Conrad left at about 6 p.m., telling his mother he was going to see a friend.
Lynn Roy: And I asked him if he was gonna be back for dinner and he said he didn’t think so. And that was the last words that he spoke to me.
THE SEARCH FOR CONRAD
It was July 12, 2014 — the heart of summer in New England.
Bob McGovern: The sailboats were out. … and it was just a beautiful Massachusetts day.
Former Boston Herald legal columnist and “48 Hours” consultant Bob McGovern has put together the pieces of Conrad Roy’s final hours.
Bob McGovern: …another Massachusetts kid who just seemed to be living a normal life. But apparently behind the scenes there was something else going on.
Conrad had headed out in his pickup truck around 6 p.m. As the evening passed, Lynn Roy checked to see when he’d be home.
Lynn Roy: And I texted him — I don’t know. Before I went to bed maybe around 10: 30, 11: 00. And then I texted him again in the middle of the night.
Conrad didn’t respond. Still, Lynn figured everything was OK. She believed he had beaten back much of his anxieties. That night, Conrad’s sister, Camdyn, unexpectedly heard from Michelle Carter — that 17-year-old who had battled her own mental health issue and lived about an hour away.
Erin Moriarty: How surprised were you that you suddenly got a text from Michelle?
Camdyn Roy: I thought she was just like — his friend … But in the text, she said, like, “We’re boyfriend and girlfriend now.” And I was just like — I looked at my mom. I was like, “They are?”
Whether teenage love or something else, Michelle was sending out the word. Had anyone heard from Conrad Roy?
Erin Moriarty: And what did she text you, exactly?
Camdyn Roy: She was like,”Hey, Camdyn, like, do you know where your brother is?”
Erin Moriarty: Was that unusual for him not to come home?
Lynn Roy: Oh yeah, absolutely … That was not like him at all … That was not like him at all.
It was sunrise. And still, not a word.
Lynn Roy: …so in the morning … I went … by Aryanna’s house and he wasn’t there.
Aryanna Taylor: And so that’s when I began to search. …Where would he be? What happened?
Lynn Roy: …we went by Dad’s house and he wasn’t – there was no sign of him. Maybe an hour later … I felt … like this — rush go through my body that I never felt in my life. …I felt at that point that he wasn’t with me.
On the afternoon of July 13, police found him inside his pickup truck, parked at the local Kmart. His cellphone was right next to him.
Lynn Roy: …and he died in his truck. …Carbon monoxide poisoning.
Camdyn Roy: I go in the car and my mom was just, like, crying, like the most I’ve ever seen her cry… And she was like, “He’s gone. Your brother’s gone.”
Erin Moriarty: It still hurts just as much as it did then, doesn’t it?
Camdyn Roy: Uh-huh [affirms].
Lynn Roy: I will live with this forever — the pain.
Aryanna Taylor: I don’t get why it happened, why did it happen? Why did it happen to him?
And Michelle seemed to take Conrad’s death as hard as anyone. Once again, “a text” was her choice of communication—this time to Lynn:
Michelle to Lynn Roy: 7/13/2014 | 8: 13: 46 p.m.: I am so very sorry. Conrad meant so much to me…
No one questioned the suicide until cops got a hold of Conrad Roy’s phone. It would prove to be an investigation like no other. No gun. No knife. No crucial DNA in this case. Only this: a trail of words, starting with those on the cellphone … messages with Michelle Carter.
Bob McGovern: And once investigators found this dialogue, they knew that there was something else up. And they wanted to get to the bottom of it, and so, this thing turned from a suicide investigation into a homicide investigation.
Michelle seemed to be encouraging Conrad — not to live, but to die. Texts flew between the two of them for more than a week, right up to the moment he took his own life:
Conrad to Michelle: 7/12/2014 | 3: 40: 35 p.m.: I’m determined
Michelle to Conrad: 7/12/2014 | 3: 41: 33 p.m.: I’m happy to hear that
Michelle to Conrad: 7/12/2014 | 3: 47: 18 p.m.: When you get back from the beach, you gotta … do it….
Conrad to Michelle: 7/12/2014 | 4: 26: 55 p.m.: no more thinking
Michelle to Conrad: 7/12/2014 | 4: 26: 55 p.m.: Yes, no more thinking you need to just do it…
But now, with Conrad Roy dead, Michelle seemed devastated – acting as if his death was a total surprise.
Aryanna Taylor: When I came to the funeral, she sat up close kind of to where the family area was … I always described her scene as the grieving widow. …she was constantly sobbing … She made a scene.
Erin Moriarty: Conrad’s funeral, Michelle came?
Lynn Roy: Yeah.
Erin Moriarty: And did you speak with her then?
Lynn Roy: No. I gave her a hug. I didn’t know her.
And two months later, Michelle even held a fundraiser to honor Conrad in her town of Plainville.
Aryanna Taylor: I found it really weird as soon as I saw the location of Plainville, Massachusetts. It was like, it didn’t make sense to me.
That fall, investigators interviewed Michelle Carter at her high school:
Detective Gordon: Do you think you had contact with him that day?
Michelle Carter: Um, I don’t think so.
Michelle Carter: I was talking to him on the phone… like, the night before the 12th, like the phone, like hung up but I didn’t — didn’t really think anything of it.
But Michelle’s story was riddled with holes and police weren’t buying it. They poured through her cellphone. Her texts ranged from urgent to ominous — like one sent to her friend Samantha Boardman on July 12 at 8: 02 p.m. — just minutes after police believe Conrad killed himself:
Michelle to Samantha: 7/12/2014 | 8: 02: 12 p.m. He just called me…I heard moaning like someone was in pain and he wouldn’t answer when I said his name…
That text was followed by another:
Michelle to Samantha: 7/12/2014 | 8: 25: 34 p.m.: I think he just killed himself
Michelle was texting her friend, but what she wasn’t doing was call for help. And there was at least one more text found on Conrad’s phone that now seems telling. Hours before he died, Michelle asked him this:
Michelle to Conrad: 7/12/2014 | 5: 17: 23 PM …Did you delete the text messages?
Police would extract more than 1,000 deleted text messages between Conrad and Michelle. Some showed his fear and reluctance to take his life on the very day he died:
Conrad to Michelle: 7/12/2014 |10: 18: 31 a.m.: Idk I’m freaking out again
Conrad to Michelle: 7/12/2014 |10: 22: 29 a.m.: I do want to. but like I’m freaking out for my family…
But even as Conrad panicked and considered abandoning his plan to die, Michelle egged him on. She’d boast about it to her friend Samantha that September in this text:
Michelle to Samantha: 9/15/2014 |8: 24: 05 p.m.: Sam his death is my fault like 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—ng told him to get back in …
The road to justice would be complicated. Massachusetts has no law against encouraging or assisting suicide. And Michelle was miles away when Conrad died.
Aryanna Taylor: People don’t realize in our generation, texting does a lot. It’s like having the person right there in front of you when you’re texting somebody.
And the Supreme Court of Massachusetts seems to agree. In the summer of 2016, it ruled that even though Michelle was an hour away from Conrad when he died, she had a “virtual presence” that night in that pickup truck. It is a controversial legal theory, born out of a digital world. And now, almost three years after his death, Michelle Carter would stand trial, charged with the involuntary manslaughter.
Michelle’s attorneys, fearing how the texts would play, advised her to waive her right to a jury trial. She put her fate in the hands of veteran Judge Lawrence Moniz.
Judge Moniz: Are you doing that in your own free will knowingly and voluntarily?
Michelle Carter: Yes, your honor
THE TRIAL: WHAT’S AT STAKE
Inside a Massachusetts courtroom, Michelle Carter, now 20 years old, looks more like a prep school coed than a criminal defendant.
Prosecutor Maryclare Flynn: She assisted and devised and advised and planned his suicide. She told him that once he was dead he would be happy and free…
Prosecutor Maryclare Flynn: On July 12, 2014, as his truck was filling with carbon monoxide, he was scared. He was got out. It was the defendant [points to Michelle Carter] on the other end of the phone, who ordered him back in and listened for 20 minutes as he cried in pain, took his last breath and died.
The alleged weapon in this case: Michelle Carter’s own words.
Bob McGovern: What she did in theory according to the prosecutors … she recklessly caused Conrad Roy’s death.
The state’s case revolves around Michelle’s chilling text messages to Conrad, as he was apparently having second thoughts, the day he took his life.
Prosecutor Maryclare Flynn: The defendant texted Conrad, “you can’t think about it. You just have to do it…. You kept pushing it off. And you say you’ll do it, but you never do. It’s always going to be that way if you don’t take action.”
And then, 10 days before he died, Michelle sent him this text message assuring him not to worry about his family’s feelings:
Michelle to Conrad: Yeah they’ll probably blame themselves for a while, but they will get over it and learn to accept it
It’s a notion that baffles and upsets Conrad’s mother.
Lynn Roy: I think she needs to be held responsible for her actions ’cause she knew exactly what she was doing … she knew exactly what she was doing and what she said.
Lynn Roy testified that on the last day of his life, Conrad was in a good frame of mind:
Lynn Roy: He was eating tortilla chips and guacamole on the way to the beach.
Prosecutor MaryClare Flynn: In 2014, did he ever express to you any intent to harm himself?
Lynn Roy: No … I knew he was a little depressed, but I thought he was doing great. He just graduated from high school, got his captain’s license. And I thought everything was moving forward not backwards.
But prosecutors contend that Michelle and her incessant texting had immense influence over Conrad even though Michelle was more than 30 miles away from him when he took his life — that her “virtual presence” caused him to do it.
Prosecutor Maryclare Flynn: She helped him to devise a plan to kill himself using a combustion engine to poison himself with carbon monoxide gas.
Michelle sent Conrad this text message:
I’m not gonna sleep until you’re in your car with the generator on.
But defense attorney Joseph Cataldo painted a very different picture.
Defense attorney Joseph Cataldo: …the evidence of texting is overwhelming that Conrad Roy was on this path to take his own life for years. …Michelle Carter was not present. Michelle Carter had been texting with him. She did not physically see this person for over one year.
The defense brings up Conrad’s acetaminophen overdose when he was 17, and claims he had been suicidal for years. In part, because of his parent’s divorce and he had a contentious relationship with his father. And, if the judge is considering Michelle’s text messages, he should look at all the messages between the teenagers — even up to a month before Conrad’s death. Michelle seemed like a concerned friend, trying to help a socially awkward and emotionally fragile Conrad.
On June 19, Michelle texts Conrad:
Michelle: Are you 100% positive you’re never gonna commit suicide? Be honest with me. Do you think about doing it?
Conrad: No I’m not
In other messages she talks about wanting to take him to a therapist or a mental health hospital. But on July 1, 11 days before his suicide, texts between Michelle and Conrad took a sinister turn.
Prosecutors let the words tell the story.
MaryClare Flynn: She talked him out of his doubts, point by point. She assured him his family would understand why he did it. She researched logisitics and reassured him that he was likely to succeed and pushed him to stop procrastinating.
Michelle had been sending Conrad suggestions on how to kill himself for weeks:
Michelle to Conrad: Hanging is painless and takes like a second if you do it right
But what would drive anyone to send a text like that? Prosecutors say Michelle was desperate for friends and attention. And she got it when she talked about her suicidal boyfriend. Just days before he died she sent texts to girls she wanted to be close with an effort to get their attention and sympathy – pretending Conrad was missing.
Prosecutor Katie Rayburn: Do you remember getting a message about Conrad being missing?
Alexandra Eblan | Michelle’s friend: Yeah.
Prosecutor Katie Rayburn: What did she say?
Samantha Boardman: She’s missing they don’t know where he is.
Prosecutors says Conrad still being alive presented a problem for Michelle. She could be exposed as a liar so it was important he kill himself. On July 12, the night he did take his life, Conrad drove to a Kmart parking lot and texted Michelle:
Conrad: leavin now
Michelle: Okay. You can do this
Conrad : okay I’m almost there
That was the last text Conrad ever sent to anyone. But there was a 46-minute phone call. Michelle called him — she was the last person to speak with him. After that call ended, Michelle texted her friend Samantha.
Prosecutor Katie Rayburn: I’m gonna ask you to read that text message please aloud.
Samantha Boardman [reads aloud]: “Sam he just called me and there was a loud noise like a motor and I heard moaning like someone was in pain and he wouldn’t answer when I said his name I stayed on the phone for like 20 minutes and that’s all I heard.”
Then, 27 minutes later, Michelle sent Samantha another text message:
Prosecutor Katie Rayburn: And what does she tell you?
Samantha Boardman [reads aloud]: “I think he just killed himself.”
Prosecutors say Michelle, within hours, began building a virtual alibi. Knowing that he was likely dead, she began acting like a concerned friend, sending Conrad this text message:
Michelle to Conrad: I’m scared are you okay? I love you please answer
Michelle showed little emotion at the trial. Her defense relies on Psychiatrist Peter Breggin, who was not treating Michelle, to explain her behavior. He testifies she was involuntarily intoxicated by an antidepressant drug she started taking three months earlier called Celexa.
Dr. Peter Breggin: She’s not thinking she’s doing something criminal…she’s found a way to help her boyfriend.
Dr. Peter Breggin: She was enmeshed in a delusion. She was unable to form intent because she was so grandiose. … you’ll see grandiosity, her deciding with him that she can help him. He wants to die. …He wants to go to heaven and he doesn’t want his family and she pronounces that she can do all of that.
But prosecutors completely dismiss that theory.
Prosecutor Katie Rayburn: His dead body is in a car for hours and she withholds that information…
Dr. Peter Breggin: She’s psychotic, she’s deluded, she disturbed. She’s out of touch.
Inexplicably, Michelle sent more than 80 texts to Conrad after he died. In some she even apologizes for not saving him. But it wasn’t just Conrad she texted. The prosecution is hoping the judge pays particular attention to this text she sent a week after Conrad’s body was discovered to her friend Samantha:
Michelle to Samantha: …They have to go thru his phone and see if anyone encouraged him to do it on texts and stuff… they read my messages with him, I’m done. His family will hate me. And I could go to jail.
TEENS AND SUICIDE
According to the prosecution, Michelle Carter helped put Conrad Roy in his grave.
Prosecutor Katie Rayburn: It was a felony and she caused serious bodily harm.
According to the defense, she didn’t know what she was doing. She was psychotic, delusional, involuntarily intoxicated — from taking the antidepressant Celexa.
Defense attorney Joseph Cataldo: Michelle Carter underwent an involuntary intoxication in June and July.
To prominent child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr. Harold Koplewicz, that makes no sense at all. Though not a witness in this case, he says those drugs — called SSRIs — are remarkably safe.
Dr. Harold Koplewicz: They don’t make you delusional. They don’t make you psychotic.
And they don’t make you intoxicated.
Dr. Harold Koplewicz: I don’t know what involuntary intoxication means. …I don’t know who made up that term, but they don’t make you drunk.
Dr. Koplewicz believes the act of texting was more mind altering than any drug.
Dr. Harold Koplewicz: And the– the problem with texts is that it separates you. It makes you feel less responsible. While it’s instantaneous, it still also keeps you away from the human contact.
But no amount of distance can explain her behavior, especially the prosecution’s contention that Michelle ordered Conrad back into the truck, says the doctor.
Dr. Harold Koplewicz: It’s very hard to understand where the man says, to a friend, “Listen, I’m feeling pain. I don’t wanna do this. I’m going to get out of the car.” There’s no way to seem to — make sense of the fact that someone then says, a friend says, “Get back in the car and kill yourself.”
Dr. Harold Koplewicz: This is — really had a vicious and — a very, very malicious quality to it.
No matter how malicious, Dr. Koplewizc says Michelle really couldn’t have convinced Conrad to kill himself if he hadn’t already been suicidal.
Dr. Harold Koplewicz: So while Michelle could not force Conrad to kill himself, she could enhance his risk of killing himself. She could encourage him to complete the act, because he was already on his way. And simultaneously, she could have screamed out for help. …Which might have prevented this deadly outcome.
Conrad Roy : I want to recover from this and I feel like I haven’t recovered– from it yet. I feel I still have a long way to go
Clearly, the heartbreaking videos now posted on YouTube show a young man looking for that different outcome, says Dr. Koplewicz.
Dr. Harold S. Koplewicz: You expose yourself like this … it says, “Please help me.”
Conrad Roy : I’ve created a monster out of myself because of my depression
Sadly, Conrad Roy is not alone. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we lose approximately 4,600 petween the ages of 10 and 24 to suicide each year. One reason is that adolescents are simply more prone to depression and. Another reason: they’re more susceptible to peer pressure.
Which is why the Netflix show “13 Reasons Why” has caused such an uproar. In the show, a teenage girl dies by suicide and leaves 13 recordings to other teens whom she blames.
Dr. Koplewicz: I think it is one of the most dangerous programs on the air right now for the simple reason that it glamorizes suicide. …unfortunately, suicide’s very contagious … we know that teenagers who watch these kind of TV programs are more likely to think about suicide, are more likely to attempt suicide, are more likely to commit suicide.
It appears that Michelle Carter may have been one of those teens influenced by what she saw on TV; not “13 Reasons Why,” but perhaps an episode of “Glee.”
When an actor on “Glee” died of an overdose in real life, the show wrote his death into the script.
There are similarities between what the character Rachel says about the loss of her boyfriend and what Michelle Carter later says about losing Conrad:
Rachel: I had it all planned out.
Will: Did you tell him?
Rachel: I didn’t have to. He knew.
Michelle’s text to a friend after Conrad died is almost word for word: I had it all planned out. … He knew too I didn’t have to tell him.
Rachel on “Glee”: He was my person
Michelle writes the same exact line: He was my person.
Prosecutor Katie Rayburn: Poor her. Her boyfriend died. They were gonna get married one day and now she’s the grieving girlfriend.
According to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, it all boiled down to that starring role as the grieving girlfriend.
Prosecutor Katie Rayburn: The Commonwealth’s position, your Honor, is that she wanted attention
After six days of testimony, closing arguments begin. The defense is up first.
Defense attorney Joe Cataldo: The evidence actually establishes that Conrad Roy caused his own death.
Joe Cataldo reminds the judge that Conrad had attempted suicide before, and points to a text Conrad wrote to Michelle:
Conrad to Michelle: there’s nothing anyone can do for me that’s gonna make me wanna to live. It’s very bad to hear, but I want to let you know that. truthfully.
The decision to die was Conrad’s, not Michelle’s, says Cataldo.
Defense attorney Joe Cataldo: He created the situation, your honor. She didn’t create this situation of somebody who said, “I don’t want to kill myself. I have no thoughts of that. Everything’s good with me.” And somehow she tricked him or bribed him or threatened him to do something as drastic as suicide.
Most importantly, Michelle was nowhere near Conrad when he killed himself.
Defense attorney Joe Cataldo: There’s no evidence that Michelle Carter has any physical actions whatsoever in this case, with Conrad Roy’s decision. It was all of his physical activity.
Prosecutor Katie Rayburn gets the last word.
Prosecutor Katie Rayburn: – and although she wasn’t physically present, she was in his ear. She was in his mind. She was on the phone. And she was telling him to get back in the car, even though she knew he was going to die.
Prosecutor Katie Rayburn: She absolutely knew it was wrong. And she absolutely caused the death of this 18-year-old boy. And I ask you to find her guilty.
THE JUDGE’S DECISION
Three days after Judge Moniz began his deliberations, two families prepare themselves for his verdict. For the Carter family, freedom is at stake; for the Roys, it’s about justice for their son.
Judge Lawrence Moniz: She instruct Mister Roy to get back into the truck well knowing of all of the feelings that he has exchanged with her — his ambiguities, his fears, his concerns.
The judge said Carter caused a dangerous environment. And under Massachusetts law, she had a duty to save him.
Judge Lawrence Moniz: She called no one. She did not issue a simple additional instruction–get out of the truck. Miss Carter, please stand. This court, having reviewed the evidence and applied the law thereto, now finds you guilty on the indictment, charging you with the involuntary manslaughter of the person Conrad Roy III.
Guilty — a verdict that is groundbreaking in terms of recognizing the deadly power of words, but one that leaves no winners, just heartbreak.
Prosecutor Katie Rayburn: I know we all wish that he had the opportunity to grow up into adulthood to become a tug boat captain and to enjoy his future.
Nearly seven weeks after being convicted, Michelle Carter, who was out on bail, arrives for sentencing — where hostile words greet her.
First, Conrad’s father and sister recall a life cut short:
Camdyn Roy: Not a day goes by with — without him being my first thought waking up and my last thought going to bed.
Conrad Roy Jr.: Michelle Carter exploited my son’s weaknesses and used him as a pawn in her own wellbeing. She has not shown any remorse. Where was her humanity?
The prosecutor reads a statement from Conrad’s mother, Lynn, who found it too difficult to speak:
Prosecutor Maryclare Flynn: [reading]: I do not know where to begin. I pray that his death will save lives someday.
Lynn Roy wants to make it a crime to encourage suicide.
Prosecutor Maryclare Flynn: [reading]: I pray that a law comes so forth so that another mother does not have to endure what I am. I do not believe that another can go on to encourage someone to take their life and it can be OK.
The prosecution asks that Carter serve seven to 12 years behind bars.
Prosecutor Maryclare Flynn: She has shown no remorse, and in fact after Conrad’s death, she sought attention and sympathy for herself. … All she had to say was to get out of the car.
Michelle Carter does not to speak at sentencing, but her attorney does and asks for probation.
Defense attorney Joseph Cataldo: Ms. Carter does regret what happened. She also sent a letter to the probation department where she accepts responsibility. …this is a terrible, terrible tragedy and she very much regrets this — prays your honor’s judgment of leniency.
Then, Michelle Carter learns her fate.
The judge sentences Carter to 15 months behind bars — a sentence that does not please the defense, appealed the conviction.
Defense attorney Joseph Cataldo: We are asking you, your honor, to stay the jail sentence until we can have our day in court.
The judge takes the request seriously, recognizing the significance of this case.
Judge Lawrence Moniz: …the conviction may be reversible, but the time spent in prison is not.
And then makes a stunning announcement:
Judge Lawrence Moniz: A grant of a stay through the Massachusetts court system only is warranted.
A stay: meaning Michelle Carter will be out on probation, not in jail, while her appeal makes its way through the Massachusetts courts. It was a decision that disappointed Lynn Roy and her daughters.
Lynn Roy: We’re just going to honor his life and do it in the most — best way we can. We want him to be proud of us.
In February 2019, Michelle Carter’s conviction was upheld, and she began serving her 15-month sentence. Her lawyers appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court declined to hear the appeal. In response, her lawyers issued the following statement: “We are deeply disappointed that the Supreme Court has decided not to review Michelle Carter’s wrongful conviction …”
Lynn Roy ‘s focus now is on changing laws.
Erin Moriarty: What would you like there to be? What kind of law?
Lynn Roy: I would love one in honor of him, his name: Conrad’s Law.
Conrad Roy [on video talking to computer]: There are people who love me. I have a great mom…
Lynn Roy: My son mattered. He matters, will always matter — someone that had a family and future and mom and dad. I will never get over him.
Learn more about the risk factors, warning signs and prevention of teen suicide
I’m a journalist who specializes in investigative reporting and writing. I have written for the New York Times and other publications.