Television

She Told Him to Kill Himself. He Did. Should She Be Held Responsible?

HBO documentary explores teen’s culpability in boyfriend’s suicide.

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I Love You, Now Die. HBO. Tuesday, July 9, 8 p.m.

When Massachusetts police announced in 2014 that they were charging a teenage girl with manslaughter for goading her boyfriend into suicide with a series of bullying texts—some of them as he sat in his pickup truck, debating whether to switch on the motor that would poison him with carbon monoxide—there seemed little doubt of her guilt.

Not necessarily her legal guilt. Though 39 states have laws against assisting or encouraging suicide, Massachusetts wasn't one of them. And Michelle Carter was not only miles away when her boyfriend, Conrad Roy III, turned on that motor, she was just 17—a year younger than Conrad and certainly not a parent, teacher, or custodial adult. Telling him to go ahead and kill himself seemed like a mordant and horribly reprehensible exercise of First Amendment rights. To turn on its head an ancient parental rebuttal to the my-friends-told-me-to-it defense: If your friends told you to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you do it? And even if the answer is yes, is it their fault?

But there was a second charge against Carter, even if it was only filed in the court of public opinion: that she was a "heartless bitch," as one reporter interviewed in the HBO documentary I Love You, Now Die called her, adding, "this coercive ice queen who killed a guy in order to become popular."

On this, the case seemed open and shut. The texts from Carter that cops found in Roy's phone, sent over a period of months, were colder than an Arctic night. When he said he wasn't sure how to do it, Carter's reply sounded like a macabre take on Paul Simon: "Drink bleach. Why don't you just drink bleach? Hang yourself. Jump over a building, stab yourself, idk. There's a lot of ways."

And in another text to a friend after Roy's body was found, Carter seemed to confess. "His death is my fault like honestly I could have stopped him," she wrote. "I was on the phone with him and he got out of the car because it was working and he got scared and I fucking told him to get back in." Small wonder that a local woman asked by a TV reporter what she thought of the case replied, "You little snot, how could you do that to a human being, you 90210 piece of crap?"

In fact, there was a lot more to the story, as the fascinating and often horrifying I Love You, Now Die—one of three two-part crime documentaries HBO will air this month—makes clear. Carter and Roy played out a fantasy that they were a millennial Romeo and Juliet, their passions fed by anti-depressants and a mutual fascination with suicide, wooing each other not with poetry but plagiarized texts.

Living in different but nearby towns in the southern leg of Massachusetts, they met in Florida, where their families were both vacationing and almost instantly bonded, in no small part over their social anxiety, clinical depression, suicide attempts (one for her, at least four for him) and disturbingly dark worldviews. When Roy confided he'd seen the devil—it's not clear if he's speaking metaphorically or literally—Carter quickly declares she does, too. "A lot, actually," she adds.

But their relationship was almost entirely digital. After returning home, they met no more than five times over the next two years, yet bombarded one another with thousands of texts, many of their lines purloined from the teen-angst TV musical Glee. How much of their hellbound race was real and how much was fantasy—and whether they understood the difference—is an open question.

What is clear is that Carter didn't plant the idea of killing himself in Roy's head. If the texts themselves weren't convincing enough that he was obsessed with the idea, the videos and notebooks full of suicide notes and bleak self-appraisals like "There's something wrong with me," surely are. But if Carter wasn't the intellectual author of Roy's death wish, neither did she report it to his parents or doctors or anybody else who might have helped him.

And in the final two weeks before his death, Carter seemed to actively encourage him, badgering him about where and when he planned to follow through on his threats: "The time is right and you're ready, you just need to do it!"

She even seems to have staged a sort of dry run 48 hours before his suicide, texting other girls at her school that her out-of-town boyfriend had disappeared and she was afraid he had killed himself. "It's all my fault," she wrote. "I was supposed to save him he needed me. I let him down."

Actually, as Carter was well aware, Roy was very much alive and deluging her with texts. Her attorney and expert psychiatric witnesses would later heap scorn on the prosecution's theory that she was setting herself up as the "grieving girlfriend" who needed social support, but they didn't have any alternative explanation.

That wasn't the only weakness in their case. Carter's most sensible defense—that words are not weapons, whatever she may have told Roy, he didn't have to do it—had been obliterated before the trial when the Massachusetts Supreme Court refused to quash her indictment.

Instead, they argued that the single most damning piece of evidence against Carter—her texted confession to a friend that she ordered Roy back into the carbon-monoxide-filled car when his resolve wavered—was a lie to gain perverse sympathy (oddly mirroring, in a way, the prosecution's "grieving girlfriend" scenario). And perhaps if Carter made that claim from the witness stand, it would have worked. But she didn't testify.

That sealed her fate, legally; she was convicted of manslaughter. And in the court of public opinion, she fared even worse. "If you're gonna do a last tweet," Carter wrote to Roy, "can it be about me?" The rest was silence.

NEXT: After 6-Year Fight, Florida Couple Wins Right to Grow Veggies at Home

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  1. So like guns that kill, texts need to be allowed only by vetted, trained, fee paying, permit holders. This is self evident, is it not?
    Let the legislation begin.
    And oh by the way, I thought being bat-shit crazy was an allowable defense.

  2. Next: “Boy who told friend ‘Go f*** yourself’ arrested on sex charges”

  3. It’ll be interesting to see if HBO handles this topic in a detached, factual, non-biased manner. I have doubts. Most often in these documentaries the producers have their POV and slant things in that direction. In any case it will have to be one sided because Roy is dead. While they can present him and his state of mind it can only be done via third person and dated text. He, unlike her will not benefit from the subtle persuasions of calculated soundtracks, and flattering and sympathetic camera angles and background shots.

    1. “It’ll be interesting to see if HBO handles this topic in a detached, factual, non-biased manner.”

      Like they did with Chernobyl? Claiming that:
      1. Nuclear reactors, using non-weapons grade fuels, can initiate
      nuclear explosions.
      2. A fission reactor could initiate a fusion reaction.
      3. Chernobyl could have resulted in a 2 to 4 megaton explosion.
      4. A 4 megaton explosion could destroy a city 200 miles away.
      5. The fallout from the Chernobyl reactors could have poisoned all
      of Europe.

      1. Those statements were placed in the mouth of a less than authoritative person. To propose he was exaggerating is not unrealistic, or wrong.

        Or maybe since no ever exaggerates on this site, you don’t believe it could happen?

  4. She won’t do much time for manslaughter. Pretty low on my list of things to give a shit about.

  5. Another example of “don’t stick it in crazy”.

  6. I guess she is supposed to be hot by Massachusettes standards? Looks more like she is starring in a Geico caveman commercial. (Yes, I was mean and petty and misogynistic on purpose, because she does deserve it)

    1. She could have been in the poster that pissed off the caveman.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fM3BZCWfH4I

      1. That caveman was so ahead of his time.
        Of course, these days, he’d be on the chopping block

        1. his little tennis bag & wooden Spalding are still worth the chuckle

  7. She’s an awful human being, but that’s not actually a crime. And we’re back to that old axiom, “If a headline asks you a Yes/No question, the answer is almost always ‘no.”

  8. This is absolute bullshit. She did not kill this guy. He killed himself. This is a hugely dangerous precedent, and it better be overturned.

    1. Agreed.

    2. Agree as well. But also would bet a lot of money on her being found guilty. A lot of money. Hope I’m wrong though.

    3. Just another baby step down the road to totalitarian paradise.

      First words are hurtful.
      then words are actions.
      then words are actual violence.
      then thoughts are actions.
      then thoughts you might think are crimes against the state.
      Then you wish you had the bad old days back. But they are gone.

    4. The most disturbing part:

      “That wasn’t the only weakness in their case. Carter’s most sensible defense—that words are not weapons, whatever she may have told Roy, he didn’t have to do it—had been obliterated before the trial when the Massachusetts Supreme Court refused to quash her indictment.“

      Words are actions, violence according to the court.

  9. The forehead eyebrow combo is disturbing.

    1. The. If question is, how are her tits?

  10. Odd that they bonded over their emotional fragility and yet she’s had it much harder than him and I haven’t seen her kill herself yet. Maybe she’s more cold-hearted manipulative bitch than actually crazy?

  11. One of the most fun bands in Austin, the Uranium Savages, recorded “Kill Yourself” live at Soap Creek Saloon–and the non-Massachussetts audience laughed. Saaay… what would happen if someone told a Massachussetts politician to discorporate or subaqueate?

  12. Legally responsible?

    No.

  13. This is morbid and depressing, but this leaped out at me:

    “they met in Florida”

    …so they’re honorary Florida Persons?

  14. If you tell someone on mind altering substances that they can fly and should leap off the ledge, are you responsible if they believe you and do so?

    1. Culpable, but not responsible. Similar to a guy taking advantage of a drunk girl. I’d say there is social and moral blame, but not necessarily criminal responsibility

    2. did you see the size of that chicken?

    3. When I was four years old I saw a cereal commercial on TV that told kids they could fly if they ate that brand of cereal. Fortunately I only jumped off the living room couch.

  15. Missing from the story is what *he* felt about killing himself.

    Was she only encouraging him in something he had expressed many a time he wanted to do?

    Or was she a hell demon who badgered and manipulated him into depression and misery, then encouraged suicide as an escape for the misery she induced?

    Lacking in the story is any account of how the guy handled his own agency.

    1. It seems one way he exercised his agency was by getting together with a crazy woman. Not that he seems a model of sanity himself.

  16. Where the hell is personal responsibility in today’s society.
    You have to be pretty weak willed to kill yourself just because someone told you to.
    Why the hell did he not just change his sim in his phone, or alternatively just bar her number. Most modern phones give the ability to bar texts and phone calls from selected numbers.
    The things she said were disgusting and horrible, but he was responsible for his own suicide.
    Her behaviour should act as a warning for other men and friends to stay clear but she should not be prosecuted for this.

    1. Suicide threat is a medical emergency.

      It is never to be taken lightly and is not a subject to joke about.

  17. Is she single?

  18. Normally they wait til marriage to start talking like that

  19. The only thing that’s certain is that Cara Delevingne will portray her in the movie.

    1. You beat me to it.

  20. no. also goes on here in these threads i’m pretty sure nobody’s drowned themselves in drano yet

  21. Is it irresponsible to tell someone to commit suicide? Yes.
    Is it a crime? No.

    If I told you to jump off a cliff would you do it?

  22. No. Being a heinous bitch still isn’t a crime. Otherwise we’d be close to resolving the sex disparity in incarceration.

  23. According to this ruling, Blue Oyster Cult are history’s greatest monsters.

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