Something as seemingly insignificant as a vile comment on a Facebook post could potentially drive people — particularly youngsters and those battling mental health issues — to harm themselves. In this era of social networking, bullying has become easier than ever, allowing a person to remotely torment or harass another without worrying about leaving any physical evidence.
It is indeed a complicated issue, given that most laws concerning the matter do not cover the possible repercussions of cyber harassment to much extent. For instance, an ongoing case regarding the suicide of an 18-year-old in Massachusetts has raised a series of new questions about the implications of assisting someone to commit suicide through text messages.
The prosecutors in the controversial case of Michelle Carter and Conrad Roy seem to believe a person can be convicted for such a crime.
Carter was charged with involuntary manslaughter for sending numerous texts to her boyfriend, Roy, in which she allegedly pressured him to take his own life. The 18-year-old battled depression and other mental health issues. He had also tried to commit suicide once before, but in 2014, he tragically succumbed to carbon monoxide and was found dead inside his truck in a parking lot.
Now, three years later, the case is set to go on trial after Carter, who is now 20 years old, waived her right to a jury trial.
Judge Lawrence Moniz will now decide her guilt or innocence after analyzing the evidence — which solely comprises of dozens upon dozens of messages the two shared, where she allegedly mocked him when he tried to back out of killing himself and asked more than 40 times if he had killed himself yet.
During the opening statement, prosecuting attorney Maryclare Flynn accused Carter of using Roy as “a pawn in her sick game of life and death” just so she could play the part of "the grieving girlfriend." She said the defendant was “craving attention and sympathy.”
The couple met in Florida in 2012 but only maintained contact through text messages and phone calls. In fact, they had only seen each other a handful of times during the course of their relationship.
Three days before Roy’s death, Carter allegedly told her friends Roy had gone missing and later that he had killed himself — even though Roy was alive and she was still talking and texting him.
“She begins to get the attention she craved for,” Flynn continued. “So she has to make it happen — she has to make him kill himself so that she's not seen as a liar. She has to be the grieving girlfriend to get the sympathy and attention she craves.”
The texts shared with the court paint a picture of a disturbing and toxic relationship. Here a few texts of the hundreds of the same nature:
“All you have to do is turn on the generator and you will be free and happy.”
“People who commit suicide don’t think this much. They just do it.”
“You'd better not be b********** me and just pretending.”
“Tonight is the night, it's now or never.”
The night of his death, Roy was apparently scared and got out of his vehicle, but according to the retrieved text messages, Carter told him to “get back in.”
The prosecutor said Carter listened “as he cried out in pain and died” before reportedly texting multiple people.
“I helped ease him into it and told him it was okay … I could’ve easily stopped him or called the police but I didn’t,” she allegedly texted one of her friends.
Meanwhile, Carter’s attorney Joseph Cataldo said Roy was already suicidal and his decision had nothing to do with the 20-year-old.
“It was Conrad Roy’s idea to take his own life; it was not Michelle’s idea,” he said, according to WCVB. “This was a suicide — a sad and tragic suicide, but not a homicide.”
Although he did not dispute his client sent those texts to Roy, he asserted they did not rise to the level of manslaughter. He claimed Carter also implored Roy to seek professional help but he turned down her advice and that the young woman, who was allegedly facing her own mental health issues at the time, was on anti-depressants, which may have clouded her judgment.
Most states consider assisted suicide through coercion a crime, but Massachusetts is one of a few states that do not.
While the case is extremely complicated, it does highlight the nuisances of living in the digital world.
Banner/thumbnail credit: Reuters