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Woman who Texted Boyfriend to Commit Suicide Convicted of Manslaughter

A Massachusetts woman who inundated her boyfriend with text messages and phone calls urging him to kill himself was found guilty Friday of involuntary manslaughter.

Michelle Carter, who was 17 at the time of the July 2014 death of Conrad Roy, 18, willfully pushed Roy to end his life, Judge Lawrence Moniz ruled. Carter had waived her right to a jury trial.

“She called no one, and finally she did not issue a simple additional instruction: Get out of the truck,” Moniz said.

“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,” the judge added.

The case was unique because Carter was nowhere near the scene when, on July 12, 2014, Roy drove alone to a parking lot and hooked up a water pump that emitted carbon monoxide into his truck’s cab. However the fumes made him sick and he stopped to call Carter.

“I could have stopped it,” Carter later texted to another friend. “I was on the phone with him and he got out of the car because it was working and he got scared and I … told him to get back in.”

Thousands of texts were submitted showing that Carter encouraged Roy to end his life. The legal question was whether those were enough cause for conviction.

The prosecution said that distance was not a barrier in the cyber age.

“It’s a new day and age, your honor, and the phones that we have now allow you to be virtually present with somebody,” said Katie Rayburn, an assistant district attorney. “People fall in love on the internet and via text, people bully via text and the internet, and you can encourage someone to die via text.”

Experts say the verdict could be a significant one.

“This sends a strong message to people that using technology to bully people into committing suicide will not be tolerated,” said Daniel S. Medwed, a law professor at Northeastern University.

Laurie Levenson, a law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said that while the case might not set a legal precedent, it cold have ramifications.

“On the broader societal spectrum, I think it sends a message that behavior that we sometimes attribute to odd teenage behavior can actually be so extreme that it’s homicide,” she said.

“What used to be seen as just a tragedy,” she continued, “is now going to be classified, perhaps, as a crime.”

Carter remains free on bail until her Aug. 3 sentencing. While free, she is banned from Facebook and Snapchat and barred from texting. Because the 20-year-old was 17 at the time of the crime, she was charged as a juvenile offender. She could face up to 20 years in prison.