TAUNTON — In the days before Conrad Roy III took his own life, Michelle Carter exploited his “frailties” by twisting words of affection into brutally cold directives, prosecutors said Friday.
“She turned [their conversations] into: ‘I love you. Kill yourself,’ ” Bristol Assistant District Attorney Katie Rayburn said during the fourth day of Carter’s involuntary manslaughter trial in Bristol Juvenile Court. “She knew he had social anxiety, was depressed and she knew his frailties. She also knew what it was like herself to be lonely.”
Prosecutors say that Carter pressured Roy through dozens of text messages to kill himself in July 2014. But Carter’s lawyer said Friday that Roy, 18, was a deeply troubled teenager, and that Carter was not responsible for his death.
“It’s insufficient to say that she caused him to die,” Joseph P. Cataldo said.
“It is insufficient to say that Roy would not have taken his life but for Michelle Carter. [There was] no physical activity, no physical actions taken by Ms. Carter.”
The high-profile case hinges on whether Carter’s disturbing words of encouragement should be considered free speech or were so reckless that she should be held criminally responsible for Roy’s death.
Bristol Juvenile Court Judge Lawrence Moniz, who is presiding over the jury-waived trial, rejected Cataldo’s motion to dismiss the charges against Carter, allowing the trial to move forward.
Cataldo has argued that Roy had long wanted to kill himself and had a history of suicide attempts. He contends that Carter, who was 30 miles away when Roy inhaled a fatal dose of carbon monoxide in his truck, did not have a legal duty to call for help as Roy succumbed to the fumes.
In a series of text messages, Carter told her peers that she listened to Roy die over the phone.
Massachusetts has no law against assisted suicide, Cataldo said, unlike most states. In addition, Roy had “specifically sought her assistance and encouragement,” he said.
“He asked her for help,” he said.
“It’s insufficient to say that she caused him to die.”
Steven Verronneau, a multi-media forensic analyst, testified that Roy, who lived in Mattapoisett, had used his laptop computer to research methods of suicide, “suicide by cop,” and ways to die while asleep. Roy made several such searches on June 24 and continued the searches until July 4, eight days before he died.
But Rayburn said that Roy was deeply conflicted about suicide, and ultimately did not want to die. During a phone conversation with Roy as he sat in his pickup truck, she told him to “get back in” the vehicle when he expressed doubts about taking his own life, she said.
“By telling him to get back into the car when he didn’t want to — that’s causation,” Rayburn said.
“This is not constitutionally protected speech.”
An involuntary manslaughter charge can be brought when a person commits wanton or reckless conduct that creates a high degree of likelihood of substantial harm, or when a person recklessly fails to act.
Prosecutors say Carter acted recklessly when she pressured Roy into committing suicide, directed him to information on how to take own his life, and told him to get back in the truck.
Carter’s lawyer called two Mattapoisett police officers to testify. The officers said they responded to a call for an assault on February 19, 2014, at the home of Roy’s father. Officers said when they arrived Roy’s face was swollen, bloodied and he had multiple lacerations. One officer said Roy’s father was subsequently arrested for assault and battery.
On Monday, Dr. Peter R. Breggin is expected to testify about his knowledge of antidepressant drugs and its impact on juveniles. Breggin is also expected to discuss Carter’s mental condition and criminal responsibility.
Cataldo previously said that Carter was taking prescription medication for “impulse control issues” with side effects that included irritability and “lashing out.”
Jan Ransom can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Jan_Ransom. John R. Ellement can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.