Over the din of a hushed courtroom in Taunton, Massachusetts, on Thursday, Judge Lawrence Moniz sentenced red-eyed 20-year-old Michelle Carter to two-and-a-half years in the Bristol County House of Correction for telling her boyfriend to kill himself.
Carter, who is now less than two weeks shy of being able to legally purchase alcohol, stood before the judge wearing burnt red slacks and a paisley top without looking back to her family. Moniz explained he would be suspending half of the 30-month sentence assuming no violations of probation, and later agreed to stay the sentence entirely pending her appeal in state court.
Carter was convicted of manslaughter in June.
Moniz's decision to stay the sentence was upsetting to at least some family members and supporters of Conrad Roy III. He was the 18-year-old who filled his truck with carbon monoxide in a Kmart parking lot after Carter instructed him via text on how to set up the generator. Carter later texted a friend that she "fucking told him to get back in" when he exited the car and called her, fearful as it filled up with fumes.
The Roy clan was crammed together on one side of the courtroom. Though seven family members wrote impact letters intended to influence sentencing, Moniz only allowed Roy's parents and siblings to deliver statements Thursday.
"I'll never get over this pain," Roy's 16-year-old sister Camdyn said Thursday as part of her impact statement, her hushed words dripping out between floods of tears.
The victim's father, Conrad Roy II, described his anguish to the court as "the worst emotional pain you have ever experienced multiplied an infinite number of times."
Prosecutors had asked that Moniz sentence Carter to no less than seven years and no more than 12. "Her actions killed Conrad Roy. She ended his life to better her own," Prosecutor Maryclare Flynn insisted.
Flynn added that the defense's request to sentence Carter to five years probation plus mental health counseling could not be effective because she had lied to therapists in the past.
In a letter previously submitted to Moniz, Carter's father, David, wrote that Michelle "is a wonderful human being with a big heart and a caring soul" but has had an eating disorder since the eighth grade and "has struggled with extreme shyness, nervousness, and lack of confidence her entire life."
"I pray to God you will take into consideration that Michelle was a troubled, vulnerable teenager in an extremely difficult situation and made a tragic mistake," he wrote.
Carter's family sat nearly motionless as Moniz announced the sentence, while some of those seated on the Roy family's side of the courtroom were visibly distraught. "How can she still be out?" one sobbed. Others cursed as they filed out of the Taunton District Courthouse. Outside, family members pushed through dozens of TV cameras as they made their way home.
The Carter trial gained national attention for obvious, tabloid-friendly reasons, but also because it stoked concern on the part of civil liberties advocates in Massachusetts—a state that does not have an assisted suicide law on the books.
"There is no law in Massachusetts making it a crime to persuade someone to commit suicide," Matthew Segal, legal director of the Massachusetts chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement. "And there should not be any sentence handed down against Ms. Carter for involuntary manslaughter because her conviction for that crime is improper. It exceeds the limits of our criminal laws and violates free speech protections guaranteed by the Massachusetts and US Constitution."
For his part, Boston defense attorney Philip A.Tracy said Moniz's sentence was fair. "The Roy family should be somewhat comforted in that he felt that she should do jail time,' he told me.
"This is as tough a decision as a judge has to make," the attorney added of Moniz's decision to find Carter guilty in the first place after she waived her rights to a jury trial. "He had to sit on a trial that has nuances that we have not really dealt with because of changes in the society.'
Carter's case was novel in part because it centered on the thousands of text messages she sent to Roy and her friends—and because she was miles away from the victim at the time of his death. The prosecution argued she convinced Roy to take his own life so she could play the role of the "grieving girlfriend" in order to garner the attention of her friends.
While Carter had presented herself as a cheery anti-suicide advocate at her high school—she was voted most likely to "most likely to brighten your day"—her messages to Roy in his last hours were almost unbelievably dark.
"Tonight is the night. It's now or never," she wrote, in one of the many messages she sent to him coxing him to kill himself. "The time is right and you're ready."
When Roy—a depressed tugboat captain from a Massachusetts sailing town who had only met Michelle a handful of times—said he would, Carter mocked him. "I bet you're gonna be like, 'Oh, it didn't work because I didn't tape the tube right or something like that.' I bet you're gonna say an excuse like that... you seem to always have an excuse."
"You can't think about it. You just have to do it. You said you were gonna do it. Like I don't get why you aren't," she wrote.
Tracy said Judge Moniz "already in a [King] Solomon way split the baby in half," when he decided to convict Carter of manslaughter not because of her texts to Roy, but for what she said to him on the phone at the critical moment when his plan to kill himself was in action. Carter later recounted the call to a friend, adding that she listened to his last, gasping breaths.
News media flocked to the quiet town of Taunton, one of the oldest in the country, to watch the trial unfold this spring. But the public still has not heard much of anything from Carter herself, other than read-outs of her texts.
If Carter does decide to speak out, Moniz has ruled she cannot profit from her story either "directly or indirectly." For now, the 20-year-old is essentially on probation as her attorneys attempt to appeal her conviction.
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