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A Manslaughter Trial and the 'Millennial Defense'

A Manslaughter Trial and the 'Millennial Defense'
Assistant Disitrict Attorney Katie Rayburn studies a document, as she makes her closing argument during Michelle Carter's trail Tuesday, June 13, 2017, in Bristol Juvenile Court in Taunton, Mass. Carter is charged with involuntary manslaughter for encouraging 18-year-old Conrad Roy III to kill himself in July 2014. (Pat Greenhouse/The Boston Globe via AP, Pool)

By    |   Wednesday, 14 June 2017 05:16 PM EDT

This story is about a tragedy, but it’s also about the many ways modern technology makes goading someone into doing something stupid as easy as a few taps on a screen. It’s about a young man of eighteen named Conrad Roy III, who confided in his girlfriend that he was depressed and considering suicide. Her response? To encourage him to do it by bombarding him with text messages and calls egging him on.

“You need to do it, Conrad.” “You can’t think about it, you just have to do it”, “No more pushing it off, no more waiting,” were just a few of the many messages that his girlfriend at the time, seventeen-year-old Michelle Carter, sent on the day he decided he to take his own life. He listened. His body was found later in his pickup truck, dead from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Carter is now on trial for involuntary manslaughter, and the details of the case are chilling. At one point when Roy was having second thoughts, Carter told him to get back in the truck and then listened on the phone while he cried out in pain and took his last breaths.

There’s also the troubling behavior Carter exhibited after Roy’s suicide, posting tributes to him on Facebook, referring to him as her “angel” and even organizing a charity softball tournament and raising over $2000 for mental health awareness in his honor. She did this (and garnered plenty of positive attention for it) even though she was the one who eagerly encouraged him to commit suicide.

Her defense, of course, paints a tale of an innocent girl and a depressed boy, and weaves a story that tries to exonerate her for her horrific behavior. The question remains: Is it a crime to tell someone to commit suicide? Should it be?

If Carter’s lawyer Joseph Cataldo has any say, the answer is no — and he has embraced a twisted logic in outlining her defense. As law professor David Siegel told the New York Post about the case, Cataldo will likely argue that Carter was “simply being a dumb teen with a phone, and too much time on her hands.” The law must determine whether or not her behavior was “wanton and reckless,” not simply offensive, reprehensible and abhorrent. Welcome to the era of the “Millennial Defense.”

Abhorrent might be exactly the right word to describe her heartless behavior, though. As Bristol County (Massachusetts) District Attorney spokesman Gregg Miliote points out, “Instead of attempting to assist him or notify school officials, a counselor, a family member, anyone, Miss Carter is alleged to have strongly influenced his decision to take his own life, encouraged him to commit suicide on multiple occasions and guided him through the process, including the engage of activities that ultimately led to his death.”

The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that there are sufficient grounds for the trial to proceed. Will Carter wave her phone around and say coquettishly that she was just a dumb teen girl trying to support her boyfriend’s stated wishes to avoid being found guilty? Probably. But whatever the outcome of this particular case, it stands as a stark reminder that what you say — and what you text — matters to other people. In this case, it was a matter of life and death.

This article first appeared on

Dave Taylor is a long-time media commentator and writer, with a focus on consumer electronics and technology. He holds a Masters degree in Education and an MBA and has published over twenty books. A single father to two teens and a tween, he also moonlights as a film and media critic and calls Boulder, Colorado, home. Read more of his reports — Go Here Now.

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This story is about a tragedy, but it’s also about the many ways modern technology makes goading someone into doing something stupid as easy as a few taps on a screen.
conrad roy iii, suicide, court case
Wednesday, 14 June 2017 05:16 PM
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