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Case of former BC student accused of urging boyfriend’s suicide heads to state’s highest court

Inyoung You, 21, arrives in Suffolk Superior Court, Friday, Nov. 22, 2019, in Boston.
Inyoung You, 21, arrives in Suffolk Superior Court, Friday, Nov. 22, 2019, in Boston.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/file

The allegations were alarming: a former Boston College student accused of encouraging her boyfriend to kill himself by tormenting him with belittling and demeaning text messages.

Now, two years after a Suffolk County grand jury indicted Inyoung You on an involuntary manslaughter charge, a trial is nowhere in sight, the case is stalled in its earliest stages, and the case is headed to the state’s highest court for a review of the criminal charges.

“Given the importance of the issues in the case, the Supreme Judicial Court has agreed to review the indictment and whether it is legally tenable,” You’s defense lawyer, Howard Cooper, said Thursday. “This is an extremely important case from a practical and legal perspective, in terms of what speech the government can criminalize.”

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Prosecutors say You harangued Alexander Urtula, a fellow BC student, over the course of their 18-month relationship with an unrelenting tirade of text messages that urged Urtula to kill himself. The communications amounted to “consistent and repeated psychological abuse” that overwhelmed Urtula’s will to live, prosecutors contend.

Alexander Urtula and Inyoung You in handout photo provided by the DA's office.
Alexander Urtula and Inyoung You in handout photo provided by the DA's office.Suffolk DA

The couple exchanged an average of 1,250 texts per day — or 75,000 total text messages — in the two months before Urtula, 22, jumped from the top of the Renaissance Parking Garage in Roxbury; 1,000 texts were exchanged the day before the May 20, 2019, suicide, court records show.

You, of South Korea, claims in court pleadings that a prosecution based on allegations of a “pattern of abusive speech” would violate the First Amendment “by criminalizing speech.” She has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

You is free on $5,000 bail, has surrendered her passport, and agreed to remain in Massachusetts pending trial.

With both prosecutors and the defense appealing a split ruling on a motion to dismiss, the Supreme Judicial Court has agreed to take up the case. It has scheduled oral arguments for Feb. 2.

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The brief filed by prosecutors on Oct. 12 has been impounded. Defense lawyers have not yet filed You’s brief.

District Attorney Rachael Rollins’s office declined to speak about recent developments in the case, instead referring to court filings and a statement issued in January when the trial judge issued the split ruling.

“While both sides have the ability to appeal the decision, we will also continue to prepare for trial and fight any appeal the defense may make,” Rollins’ statement said.

“We maintain that the evidence shows that Ms. You’s physical, verbal, and psychological abuse toward Mr. Urtula during their 18-month-long tempestuous relationship — abuse which became more pronounced, powerful, and demeaning in the days and hours leading up to Mr. Urtula’s death — were a cause for his suicide,” she said.

Alexander Urtula in handout photo provided by the DA's office.
Alexander Urtula in handout photo provided by the DA's office.The Boston Globe

Urtula, a son of Filipino immigrants who studied biology, took his own life on the morning of his graduation while his family waited for him at the Boston College stadium. When You figured out where Urtula was and what he was planning to do, she rushed to the garage, texting him along the way and begging him not to kill himself, according to text exchanges released as evidence in the case.

Prosecutors say You, then 21, had used her phone to track Urtula to the garage and arrived just as he killed himself.

Earlier this year the Suffolk Superior Court judge overseeing the case, Christine M. Roach, dismissed one of the theories on which prosecutors have based the involuntary manslaughter charge — that You contributed to Urtula’s death by failing to call 911 during the 42 minutes after she realized Urtula was going to kill himself.

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That dismissal prompted prosecutors to seek an appeal.

And because the judge did not dismiss the theory that relies on You’s text messages — wanton or reckless conduct — the defense has sought its appeal.

Defense lawyers requested in October that the SJC take up the case in what’s called a direct appellate review.

“The issues, which the court is concerned about,” You’s lawyer, Cooper said, “really relate to the breadth of Massachusetts criminal law concerning involuntary manslaughter cases that are based upon pure speech.”

You faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted as charged. Court documents reveal a relationship characterized by dominance, fits of rage, withering insults, demands for Urtula’s complete attention, and increased isolation from his family and friends.

According to court filings: “The consistent overall theme of the texts is berating every aspect of Urtula’s intelligence, appearance, behavior and worthiness to be her boyfriend.”

The sadistic behavior became so all encompassing that Urtula began referring to himself as You’s “slave,” saying she owned him, dictated his happiness, and had complete emotional and physical control over him, court records show.

Urtula, who grew up in Cedar Grove, N.J., begged You to stop mistreating him.

“I’m breaking down and I’m scared,” he texted. “I want you and the voices to stop ... to stop telling me how worthless and pathetic I am ... And how much I deserve to die.”

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You’s involuntary manslaughter charge is a grim echo of the criminal case against Michelle Carter, the Plainville teenager who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for the 2014 death of her boyfriend. In the months leading up to his suicide, Carter repeatedly sent him texts urging him to take his own life.

The charges gained national attention and sparked a legal debate over whether words alone should justify charges of murder or manslaughter in cases of coerced suicide.

Carter’s lawyers appealed the conviction, arguing that Carter could not be convicted on the basis of speech alone. The state Supreme Judicial Court upheld the conviction, which then was appealed to the US Supreme Court, which declined to take up the case. Carter was sentenced to 15 months in prison and served 12.


Tonya Alanez can be reached at tonya.alanez@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @talanez.