What Will the Michelle Carter Trial Mean Going Forward?
Judge Lawrence Moniz has reached a decision in the involuntary manslaughter trial of Michelle Carter, and is expected to announce that verdict in a Taunton juvenile courtroom Friday morning.
Carter is charged with involuntary manslaughter in the 2014 suicide of her boyfriend, Conrad Roy III. Roy took his own life by carbon monoxide poisoning in his pickup truck in a Fairhaven parking lot. Prosecutors say the then-17-year-old Carter badgered Roy through dozens of text messages to act on his suicidal thoughs, even telling him to "get back in" his truck after he became frightened and got out.
Attorney Adrienne Catherine H. Beauregard-Rheaume of the New Bedford-based Law Offices of Beauregard, Burke & Franco told WBSM News that the judge's decision will be based on whether the prosecution can prove Carter showed a "reckless disregard" for Roy's safety, and if she knew the possible consequences of his conduct.
"As has been widely reported, different states have different laws about whether or not it's OK to assist in suicide. Massachusetts doesn't have a statute that's exactly on point with that, but what it does have is the involuntary manslaughter law," she said. "So what the judge is going to have to decide is, looking at the elements of the law, if each element has been proven."
The prosecution has cited the case of Persampieri vs. Commonwealth on multiple occasions, one they believe shows there is a precedent for being convicted of involuntary manslaughter for encouraging a suicide. In that 1961 case, a wife told a husband she intended to commit suicide, and the husband didn't take it seriously and actually taunted her into doing it.
Beauregard-Rheaume agrees with the prosecution that the circumstances are quite similar.
"Reading from the verdict: 'He taunted her, told her where the gun was, loaded it for her, saw that the safety was off and told her the means by which she could pull the trigger. He thus showed a reckless disregard of his wife's safety, and the possible consquences of his conduct,'" she said. "And that's the involuntary manslaughter standard."
She did point out that one difference is that the husband in that case pleaded guilty, whereas Carter has pleaded not guilty. However she thinks Judge Moniz could say the evidence did show she had a reckless disregard of Roy's safety and knew the consequence could be him ending his own life.
The defense has argued that Roy had a long history of suicidal thoughts, and that Carter had encouraged him to get help. They've also argued that the texts Carter sent are protected under free speech.
Beauregard-Rheaume said she can appreciate the defense team's arguments about free speech and the texts being protected under the First Amendment, but noted free speech is not without restrictions.
"There should be caveats to that, and we shouldn't rest too much on that, because the law recognizes so many instances where we have limits to free speech," she said. "Words have consequences of course, as we see, so the law puts limits on free speech."
Beauregard-Rheaume said that if Carter is found not guilty, it could lead to legislation further clarifying the state's position on assisting in suicide.
"Perhaps that means that the legislature needs to take a look at whether it's time for Massachusetts to adopt a law like other juridiscitions have that prohibits the assisting or aiding and abetting of suicide, as other jurisdictions have done."
Beauregard-Rheaume referenced the 2014 case of a man caught taking photos up women's skirts in public. He was not convicted because there was no state law against it at the time; subsquent legislation has now made so-called "upskirt" photos illegal. She thinks something similar will happen after the Carter verdict, if she is found not guilty.
"Sometimes in instances like this, what the defendant did has caused such an outcry, and understandably, a lot of people are taken aback by the behavior she engaged in," she said. "If a lot of people question if what she did is legal or illegal under the law, it kind of exposes sometimes where you have gaps in the law."
Court is back in session Friday at 11 a.m.