TAUNTON — In June 2017, when Juvenile Court Judge Lawrence Moniz convicted Michelle Carter of involuntary manslaughter for badgering her boyfriend, Conrad Roy III, into killing himself, she cried.
Two months later, when Moniz ordered Carter to spend 15 months in jail, her eyes filled with tears again, even after he stayed that sentence while she appealed her conviction.
But on Monday afternoon there were no tears, no plaintive, confused looks at her lawyer or her parents. Moniz had barely gotten the words “Miss Carter will now be taken into custody” out of his mouth before Carter rose of her own volition and headed for the door on the left side of the Taunton courtroom. A court officer grabbed her by the left elbow and steered her toward the door, on her way to jail.
After years of seeming incomprehension, Carter displayed what seemed like sad resignation.
Joe Cataldo, Carter’s lawyer, wasn’t willing to concede that his client had prepared herself for the inevitable.
“I don’t think anybody who was 17 when this happened and undergoing mental health treatment is ever prepared,” he said.
He said she’s not on the medication she was when Conrad Roy killed himself. She’s 22 now.
“She’s a completely different person,” he said.
That might well be true, and might explain why Michelle Carter headed to that door and her fate without so much as a glance back at her parents, who were sitting in the front row of the courtroom.
Gone were the long blond locks. Instead, Carter wore her two-toned hair in a short bob. She wore a smart blazer with elbow patches and a black turtleneck sweater, looking like a college student or a young professional more than an emotionally unstable teenager who had used her cellphone as a virtual weapon against her virtual boyfriend.
She was just short of her 18th birthday that summer’s night in 2014 when, after a relentless barrage of text messages and phone calls urging 18-year-old Conrad Roy not only to kill himself but recommending how he should do it, Roy used a gasoline-powered water pump to fill his pickup truck’s cab with carbon monoxide in the parking lot of a Kmart in Fairhaven. When he had second thoughts and exited the cab, Carter, on the phone some 30 miles away in Plainville, ordered him to get back in.
Cataldo and her appellate lawyer, Dan Marx, are holding out hope that the US Supreme Court will take her case, because there is nothing approaching unanimity in all 50 states on the idea that someone can be held criminally responsible for using only words to persuade someone to kill themselves. They point to a case in Minnesota in which a man’s conviction for going online to persuade vulnerable people to kill themselves was initially overturned before his conviction for assisting suicide was affirmed.
But Moniz was having none of it. He granted a stay on Carter’s sentence only so she could appeal her conviction in Massachusetts courts. And when the state’s Supreme Judicial Court ruled unanimously last week that her conviction was on solid legal footing, he had seen enough. It took Moniz less than five minutes to end nearly five years of litigation in Massachusetts.
Cataldo insisted, “This case is not legally over.”
Maybe, but it is over for the Roy family, according to Becky Maki, Conrad Roy’s aunt. She said the family hopes that awareness raised by this case deters those who might consider doing as Carter did and encourages those who need mental health care to seek it.
“Conrad will be forever missed,” she said, outside the courthouse. “His life mattered.”
Becky Maki choked back tears, and then she said, not to the assembled sea of humanity outside the courthouse but to her nephew, “Conrad, we love you.”
Becky Maki turned to embrace Conrad Roy Jr. and they cried together for his son, for a boy lost.