A former Boston College student charged with goading her boyfriend to take his own life avoided prison time on Thursday by agreeing to plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter and accept her role in Alex Urtula’s death, a plea deal blessed by the victim’s family.
Inyoung You admitted in Suffolk Superior Court that she sent tens of thousands of texts in what prosecutors called months of emotional and psychological abuse in the weeks leading up to the tragedy. Urtula jumped from the roof of a Roxbury parking garage in May 2019, just hours before he was supposed to graduate from BC with his family in attendance.
Suffolk Superior Court Judge Robert Ullman sentenced You to a 2½-year suspended sentence and 10 years of probation. Had the case gone to trial, You could have faced up to 20 years in prison.
“This agreement with defense counsel was made in close consultation with the Urtula family. It is consistent with their desire to seek accountability and closure and to protect the legacy of Alexander, a loving son, brother, and uncle,” said District Attorney Rachael Rollins. “They believe this is something Alexander would have wanted.”
It was a very different outcome from another high profile texting case, the 2019 trial of Michelle Carter, who went to prison after being found guilty of involuntary manslaughter for pressuring her boyfriend to kill himself. On the day Conrad Roy III killed himself in July 2014, she ordered him back into a truck that was filling fast with carbon monoxide, then listened as he choked to death on the fumes.
By contrast, You had been tracking Urtula’s phone the morning that he jumped from the Renaissance Parking Garage. She rushed to the garage, texting him along the way and begging him not to kill himself, according to text exchanges released as evidence.
Some legal observers said You’s treatment of her boyfriend, while deeply troubling, was less connected to his immediate cause of death than Carter’s treatment of Roy.
You’s case had attracted support from First Amendment advocates who argued she shouldn’t face criminal charges at all for the texts. You had appealed the criminal charges to the state Supreme Judicial Court, but under Thursday’s deal, she will drop the case.
In imposing the sentence, Ullmann urged You “to make every possible effort to live your life in a way that honors the memory of Alexander Urtula.”
Ullmann also said he hopes the case will “drive home” to teens and young adults that “this type of messaging, demeaning someone when they are feeling down or even suggesting suicide can have devastating consequences.”
The judge also ordered You not to profit or benefit in any way from her case. She also must perform 100 hours of community service in each of the first three years.
You, 23, a native of South Korea who is an American citizen, softly answered yes when asked by the judge if she understood the plea agreement and the consequences of admitting guilt. Asked if she would like to make a statement, her lawyer Steven Kim said You was too distraught to speak.
Prosecutors briefly laid out the way she allegedly drove Urtula, 22, to suicide. They said that You harangued Urtula, a biology major from New Jersey, over the course of their 18-month relationship with a blizzard of texts urging him to kill himself.
According to Rollins, the “unrelenting abuse was witnessed by friends and classmates of both parties and documented extensively in text messages between the couple.”
Between March 29, 2019, and Urtula’s death on May 20, 2019, the couple exchanged 75,337 text messages, of which 47,130 were sent by You, Rollins said. “You repeatedly told the victim that he should kill himself or die and waged a campaign of abuse that stripped the victim of his free will. Evidence . . . illustrate that his suicidality began only as a result of Ms. You’s near constant abuse,” Rollins said.
Assistant District Attorney Caitlin Grasso said prosecutors agreed to accept a plea in part because Urtula’s family was supportive and it would spare them the pain of a trial.
“The Commonwealth’s position is that her conduct was morally reprehensible,” said Grasso. “However, the defendant is not likely to reoffend and is amenable to rehabilitation.”
Grasso said the state was most concerned with accountability — that You be willing to plead guilty to the offense.
Grasso read a statement from Urtula’s family and presented a photo of him to the court.
“May 20, 2019, was to be a celebration of graduation and the beginning of his productive life,” the statement said. “But instead of him moving forward into the world, planning and enjoying the next steps, we, his family, abruptly found ourselves planning and attending his funeral. It was so very painful on the drive back home.”
But the family said, “We bear no feelings of anger or reprisal. We believe that time will take us through in the moments we mourn and celebrate his life.”
Defense attorney Kim argued that You ultimately tried to stop Urtula from killing himself.
“As soon as Ms. You understood that he was trying to commit suicide, Ms. You did everything she could to prevent it, calling, texting, pleading, begging, rushing over there,” Kim said in a statement. “Ms. You is a wonderful young woman who has deep deep remorse.”
Ullmann made clear that he believes the case was unlike other similar cases involving texting, an apparent reference to the case against Carter, who was sentenced to 2½ years in prison with 15 months served and the rest suspended for her role in her boyfriend’s death. She was released in 2020 but remains on probation.
Carter’s case was the first in which someone was convicted of manslaughter for using their words — she coaxed Roy in texts and phone calls “to take action” and end his life.
Ullmann said the actions in cases like Carter’s were more specific and connected to the immediate cause of death.
“This is a tragic case,” the judge said. “Frankly, the statement of the Urtula family is heartbreaking.
”To the members of the Urtula family, I am deeply sorry for your loss and I greatly admire how you’ve responded to this tragedy,” he said.
Andrea Estes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.