In the Michelle Carter case, the eyes have it
Lawrence Moniz, the judge presiding over one of the most closely watched criminal cases in the land, had eyes all over him Thursday as he was about to pass sentence in a Taunton courtroom.
It was Moniz who found Michelle Carter, a wispy 20-year-old, guilty of manslaughter because she did so much to make sure her virtual boyfriend, Conrad Roy III, committed suicide.
Carter never put a hand on Roy. But her words, spoken over the phone, typed in text messages, told Roy how to kill himself and told him to get back into his truck when he had second thoughts about the carbon monoxide that was filling his cab.
When Moniz looked up from his bench, the eyes of Roy's family stared at him from the left, the eyes of Carter's family stared at him from the right. Carter stared off somewhere else, weeping, seeming to know she was bound for the inside of a prison cell.
Moniz took great pains to explain that his job — dispensing justice in a juvenile court to someone who was three weeks shy of her 18th birthday when she helped a mentally unstable kid kill himself — was to find that delicate balance between rehabilitation and punishment.
Roy's family wanted Carter to receive the maximum allowed: 20 years in prison.
Carter's family asked for probation.
The prosecution split the difference and asked for 7 to 12 years.
Moniz, with all those eyes on him, settled on 2½ years in the Bristol County House of Correction, with Carter required to serve only 15 of those 30 months.
Conrad Roy's family was deeply disappointed with that sentence, but that disappointment turned to anger when the judge acceded to a request by Carter's lawyer, Joe Cataldo, to stay the sentence pending an appeal.
Moniz knew Cataldo would ask for a stay: The judge had already done research into relevant case law on stays, preparing for the sentencing hearing. Again, he knew there are eyes on this case, everywhere, especially legal ones.
Moniz knows that the absence of legal precedents in a manslaughter case in which only words led to someone's death means this is bound for higher courts in Massachusetts, and possibly federal courts. This could drag on for years, Moniz acknowledged, so it would be unfair to put Carter in jail if she might prevail on appeal.
It was another punch in the gut for the Roy family, who had to endure various attempts by Carter to avoid trial in the first place. Conrad Roy died slowly, painfully, three years ago as his truck cab filled with carbon monoxide from a water pump, and as Carter listened to his last breaths on her phone some 40 miles away in Plainville. He was 18.
For the Roys, this is more justice delayed. They had come to see Michelle Carter walk out in handcuffs. Instead, she merely had to check in with probation.
Judge Moniz said it was his duty to keep emotion out of the courtroom. But it was that very emotion that left Lynn Roy, the dead boy's mother, unable to speak at the sentencing of the person who goaded and prodded her son to kill himself. Prosecutor Maryclare Flynn read Lynn Roy's words for her.
"I still cannot come to terms that another person would want to inflict so much pain," Lynn Roy wrote.
Lynn Roy called for a law that would make it explicitly illegal to do what Michelle Carter did.
Even the judge seemed to think that was a good idea, as someone who had to wrestle with a case for which there was a dearth of legal guidance.
Moniz decided on more than incarceration. He ordered that Carter undergo mandatory mental health treatment.
And he prohibited her from profiting from a movie or book or any other telling of the tragic events surrounding this case.
It was little comfort for the Roys, who went home without their son while the Carters went home with their daughter.