Another MA Case About Encouragement to Commit Suicide

Prosecutors charging Boston College student's girlfriend with involuntary manslaughter

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

I blogged previously about the Michelle Carter case here, here, and here. Even though the Massachusetts legislature has not yet spoken on the proposed legislation that specifically addresses encouragement of or assistance with suicide, prosecutors are continuing to use charges of involuntary manslaughter to go after individuals who allegedly told others to kill themselves. According to CNN:

Inyoung You, 21, tracked Alexander Urtula's location on May 20 and was present when he jumped from a parking garage only hours before graduation, Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins told reporters.

Authorities said You, also a student at Boston College, was "physically, verbally and psychologically abusive" toward her boyfriend during their 18-month-long relationship.

Investigators looked through a trove of text messages the two exchanged in which You allegedly tells Urtula, 22, to "go kill himself" or to "go die" and that she, his family and the world would be better off without him, prosecutors said.

You and Urtula exchanged 75,000 messages in the two months before his suicide and, according to the prosecutors' statement, "Many of the messages display the power dynamic of the relationship, wherein Ms. You made demands and threats with the understanding that she had complete and total control over Mr. Urtula both mentally and emotionally."

While I will eagerly await further facts, I currently remain rather skeptical of such claims of complete relinquishment of free will on the part of young men at the hands (or rather, words) of girlfriends even younger than themselves. Some commentators have also pointed out the potentially gendered nature of these claims in the Michelle Carter case, which follow the lore of witches who can coerce men in Satanic ways.

It will be genuinely interesting to see the public reaction if prosecutors decide to start charging male defendants for encouraging their girlfriends to kill themselves. And one cannot help but wonder how a scenario would fare in which prosecutors claimed that an alleged perpetrator committed a sexual offense by exerting "total control" over a victim that was, therefore, no longer able to consent. I am not sure these MA prosecutors are champing at the bit to test that one, even though there is no logical reason their arguments about subversion of will should stop at suicide.

NEXT: As Ben Franklin almost said, a throuple can keep a secret – if a couple of them are dead

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  1. “Some commentators have also pointed out the potentially gendered nature of these claims in the Michelle Carter case…”

    “And one cannot help but wonder how a scenario would fare in which prosecutors claimed that an alleged perpetrator committed a sexual offense by exerting “total control” over a victim that was, therefore, no longer able to consent.”

    In my my experience, the claim that men can deprive women of their ability to consent by hassling them for sex is much more common than the claim that women can force men to kill themselves. It’s another example proving that feminists hate women.

    But I don’t think the prosecutor needs to show that she deprived her boyfriend of free will in this case, so the analogy is a red herring. And people, male and female, are routinely prosecuted as accessories for telling other people to do bad things. The theory of culpability here is similar. We’ll see how the facts shake out in this case.

  2. I sometimes think there should be one simple rule: you are either responsible for your self, or you are some guardian’s ward. Guardianship should have rules on how far it goes. For instance, some veterans have been precluded from owning firearms because they have a financial guardian of some sort; that’s irrelevant.

    Parole and probation are a form of guardianship; I don’t particularly mind rules such as don’t drink, don’t possess weapons, etc. But when the guardianship is over, so are the limitations.

    In cases like this one, did no family or friends notice the dead man’s state, his presumed slave-like devotion to his presumed abuser? Apparently not, and so he was still his own agent, nobody’s ward, and responsible for his action. Now comes a nanny prosecutor who knows better in hindsight than anyone else knew at the time.

  3. “[G]endered nature”?

    My memory may be faulty, but I was under the impression that there have been numerous court cases, studies, writings, etc., about situations in which men have used verbal, emotional, and psychological abuse to harm women, convince them to engage in acts they would not engage in, etc. There are certainly cases in which the elderly have been deprived of their savings and abused by those who do not threaten or commit violence, but harass, torment, and verbally harm them.

    To the extent that a sample size of two shows a “gendered” result and not normal statistical variation, I would gather that it is because men generally fight physically and women, lacking the power advantage, have other weapons. Men harm their targets directly; women often do so in a different manner.

    Not to say that I agree or disagree with the prosecution, but I strongly disagree that this is somehow about women’s oppression. Don’t act like a piece of human waste and you probably won’t be prosecuted for encouraging your boyfriend to kill himself.

    1. How very 20th century :

      I would gather that it is because cis men generally fight physically and ciswomen, lacking the power advantage, have other weapons.

      There, FTFY.

  4. Gender?

    It boils down to gender equity, or so we are told. The biggest challenge facing America is to ensure that women make up 51% of the prison population and to eliminate the gender-gap in life expectancy. Prosecution and conviction of women in these cases is necessary to ensure gender-equity on both counts.

    1. You’ll also need to execute a lot to bring the life expectancy in line. Could millions of young women get executed, or go the Logan’s Run route with all women in their late 70’s.

      Of course, you also need on-the-job rates to be the same, so we’ll need some sort of Bureau of Drive By Shootings, or similar.

  5. I actually find it rather refreshing that someone as moonbatty as Irina Manta is poo-pooing the notion that grown ups can be psychologically bullied into a lack of agency.

    Next come doubts about the whether it’s really true that women only “choose” motherhood because of the pervasive cultural brainwashing by the patriarchy.

    The final stage – God forbid – is imagining that people could select the elements of health insurance that they themselves think suitable; and writing for the American Spectator..

    It’s a long way down when you slip on that slope.

    1. Equality of genders was an early version of “weaponizing” an idea against its originators. All genders are equal, so it went. So therefore no double standard for males, so they get to legally hurt females for the exact same behaviors. Nevermind that few if any men cared. “But it feels sooooooo good to strike back.”

      1. Not entirely sure I’ve grasped your point, so apologies if I’ve missed it.

        If you’re suggesting that drawing attention to absurdities arising from the application of an alleged principle that is argued against you, implies you are enthusiastic about the absurdities, I think you are mistaken. The point is that the revealed absurdities reveal the falsity of the alleged principle.

        This is surely rather standard fare. You defend a particular conclusion by appealing to a “general” principle from which this particular conclusion flows. If you don’t like other particular conclusions that flow from the same general principle, then your general principle is a crock.

        1. No, you are exactly right. But people gain political power from the absurdity, so they are happy to put up with the consequences, which often hurt themselves.

          More accurately, the leaders of their tribe gain the power while the folllwers get the hurt. Have the leaders said, “Thank you!” lately?

  6. 75,000 messages in 2 months?!? If math serves me well; that comes out to well over 1,000 messages per day. As far as I’m concerned; that’s evidence that (a) they both need(ed) to get a life, and (b) they’re both nutty as a fruitcake.

  7. “It will be genuinely interesting to see the public reaction if prosecutors decide to start charging male defendants for encouraging their girlfriends to kill themselves. And one cannot help but wonder how a scenario would fare in which prosecutors claimed that an alleged perpetrator committed a sexual offense by exerting “total control” over a victim that was, therefore, no longer able to consent. I am not sure these MA prosecutors are chomping at the bit to test that one, even though there is no logical reason their arguments about subversion of will should stop at suicide.”

    Given that practically every modern law designed to be ‘gendered’ is in favor of women what makes you think that people/authorities in general would balk more at charging men than they do women?

    Having said that, for some reason I get the feeling this sort of case happens a lot more with women egging on men than the reverse.

    1. Lady Macbeth would like a word with you out back, she disagrees with your point about urging people on to commit deeds that they wouldn’t otherwise.

  8. ” I currently remain rather skeptical of such claims of complete relinquishment of free will on the part of young men at the hands (or rather, words) of girlfriends even younger than themselves.”

    I’m a little troubled at this statement. What is it supposed to mean? That women can’t be abusive of men? That “younger” women can’t actually have emotional power over men? That younger women “can’t” have a position of power over a guy who might be 2-3 years older than her? That there is some sort of inherent gender disparity that makes such a situation “impossible” for a woman to have?

    Sorry no, I don’t accept that. Women are just as capable as men, in every measure, both good and bad. As men have been able emotionally abuse women into submitting to the man’s will, so women have the ability to emotionally abuse men into submitting to the woman’s will.

    1. No, women aren’t just as capable as men, nor are men just as capable as women, and that’s especially true during typical college age years, when a woman’s brain is likely to be further developed than a mans, simply because of the rate of development triggered by puberty. That’s why essentially every study that looks finds that if anything the age of adulthood should be shifted up to 25, when most people have reached (or nearly so) mental maturity.

  9. Let’s further examine this “complete relinquishment of free will” comment, by using an example of a different power imbalance.

    Let’s assume, instead of a boyfriend-girlfriend relationship, it’s a patient-psychologist relationship. Now, within that new relationship, there is a clear power imbalance. However, it’s not “complete relinquishment of free will”. Even so, if the psychologist was to repeatedly suggest the patient kill themselves, that the patient was worthless to society, and that the world would be better off without them, and then the patient did commit suicide.

    I believe a court would have no problem charging the psychologist with involuntary manslaughter.

    Now, a girlfriend-boyfriend relationship is a higher bar than doctor-patient. But remember, this wasn’t a simple one-off exclamation “you should kill yourself”.

    This was repeated, consistent suggestions, dozens, hundreds, over a period of months.

  10. Finally, in regards to the gender imbalance.

    It should come to no surprise to people that there is a noted gender imbalance in the various crimes committed by people. Indeed, in a broad class of crimes, it is rather heavily slanted towards men committing the crimes. By contrast, there should be a subset of crimes that are more heavily slanted towards women committing them. Not that men “can’t”. But that women more frequently commit the crimes. And this type of situation is likely one of them.

    In addition, we have a very small subset here, what are essentially “assisted suicide” convictions. We’ve got this case, Michelle’s case, and after a bit of searching, the case of Matthew Stubbendieck. The facts around them all are different. But it is not a “female-only” crime.

  11. By contrast, there should be a subset of crimes that are more heavily slanted towards women committing them.

    Contrary to popular opinion, wives / female partners assault their domestic partners (considerably) more often than do husbands / male partners. This does not show up in the crime statistics because the male victims seldom complain to the police. Partly because it would not be macho so to do, but also because a woman typically does not do much damage. Stronger men inflict much more serious damage on the rarer occasions that they commit the assaults.

    This is all extremely reasonable, since we do not want the courts to be clogged up with matters of little account, where the victim chooses to regard them as of little account. But lest it be believed that men commit more domestic assaults than women – it ain’t necessarily so.

    1. Lee….where does this come from = Contrary to popular opinion, wives / female partners assault their domestic partners (considerably) more often than do husbands / male partners. This does not show up in the crime statistics because the male victims seldom complain to the police.

      Is there a data source?

      1. IIRC, it’s not an uncommon claim, but the main point of contention with the claims is that researchers are counting as “assault” things that cause no harm.

        The moment you restrict your tally to either involved police or caused harm, women plummet in the rankings. When you judge strictly by the action, and not the consequence, their numbers jump.

        For example, remember Ray Rice getting in trouble for punching his wife in an elevator a few years back? If you watch the video, it sure looks like she took the first swing. But she’s a frail little thing and he’s a football player, so even if it happened (video is ambiguous), it did nothing compared to him taking the second swing. So it’s hard to count that as both “man assaulted wife” and “woman assaulted husband” (again, assuming it looks like she took a swing to you. As I said, video is ambiguous).

        1. So you’re saying that you can take a free swing at a cop and it won’t get counted as “assault” if you don’t hurt him?

          Somehow, I don’t think that’s the legal definition. Or the moral one.

          Assault is assault. Motivation to cause harm is required. Actual causation of harm is not. If Rice’s wife took the first swing, then yes it most definitely should be counted as “woman assaulted husband”. Whether it also gets counted as “man assaulted wife” would depend (in my opinion) on whether the second hit was in self-defense, not on which swing (if any) caused harm.

          1. So you’re saying that you can take a free swing at a cop and it won’t get counted as “assault” if you don’t hurt him?

            Of course not. For crying out loud, bleeding on a cop as he beats you up counts as “vandalism of public property”. That said, you shouldn’t confuse Cop Privilege with anything to do with the rest of us.

            You’re also ignoring my point, which is that the kind of research that Lee is talking about rely on counting as “assault” things that most people (regardless of the law) wouldn’t count as assault.

            That you, yourself, take an absolutist perspective on the definition of assault is pretty irrelevant to my explanation of the research (and why so many folk outright reject it).

            1. As you say, most studies are counting the more serious types of violence where male perps greatly exceed female ones.

              But this is quite good :

              https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/170018.pdf

              Some other studies elide physical and non physical “violence” but this one doesn’t. It also lists exactly what it means by physical violence, including quite minor things like slapping. (Though it does exclude Mrs Moore’s favored disciplinary measures – grabbing and twisting a finger (smart technique for a shrimp against a whale), twisting an ear (ditto), digging fingernails into hand, and the old standby, pinch’n twist.)

              The NZ study also combines victim and perp stats, which is useful. Even so it’s still excluding most small scale violence. From the Moore household I’d report about 500 female on male incidents a year, which cause actual pain, as against zero the other way round. But she would report 500 punishments meted out a year, from an almost infinite number of disciplinary infringements..

              Also interesting is that while women’s claimed victimisation rates closely track male perps admission rates, female perps admission rates tend to exceed men’s claimed victimization rates. Hinting that some female violence is simply ignored or forgotten by men. As you would expect – a momentary twist of the ear is not as memorable as a broken rib.

      2. The CDC report on domestic violence. I think it was from 2015. I believe it was almost 50/50 for who starts it, and not “considerably more often”.

        Women sexually assaulting men (and women) was also way higher than you would expect, but nowhere near 50/50. You have to look closely at their definitions, I don’t think they termed a lot of stuff that happens to men as “rape”.

        1. It’s….harder….for women to rape a man. By no means impossible. But due to certain physics, more difficult.

          1. Between boner pills (and other drugs) and strap-ons, it’s really not hard at all.

  12. Contrary to popular opinion, wives / female partners assault their domestic partners (considerably) more often than do husbands / male partners. This does not show up in the crime statistics because the male victims seldom complain to the police.

    I’m genuinely curious as to the basis for this claim.

    1. Lee’s observation is consistent with my own experience. (Commanders in the service get dragged into more domestic disputes than I ever wanted to know existed.) My observations were about 4:1 female:male assaulters. But that was purely anecdotal evidence from a very limited sample. I’m not aware of any reliable statistics on the question. Lee, can you share your source please?

  13. Contrary to popular opinion, wives / female partners assault their domestic partners (considerably) more often than do husbands / male partners.

    How much can I wager this is laughably false?

    1. It would be nice if somebody would link to some data, especially since I’m to lazy to google, but the claim is quite plausible. As the exchange of blows between Joe Mixton and his female adversary made clear, the consequences of men losing their cool and women losing their cool are not remotely similar, and thus are often treated differently.

      1. More than 830,000 men fall victim to domestic violence every year, which means every 37.8 seconds, somewhere in America a man is battered, according to the National Violence Against Women Survey. While more than 1.5 million women are also victims, everyone — no matter their sex –deserves help.

  14. ‘laughably’ probably a poor choice of words. Not in any way funny.

  15. I’m not sure why this was turned into a gendered issue. There have been many cases involving an abusive man who has in some way coerced a woman into doing/not doing something. It’s really a key part of the abusive dynamic, taking control over the abused partner’s decisions. We’ve seen cases of “battered women’s syndrome,” where continued abuse is used as a legal excuse for committing murder, and I’ve certainly seen women raise an abusive partner forcing them to do it as their justification for committing a variety of crimes. It’s not always successful, but it’s certainly used. This isn’t some crazy and unique idea that’s just being applied to women.

  16. “I currently remain rather skeptical of such claims of complete relinquishment of free will on the part of young men at the hands (or rather, words) of girlfriends even younger than themselves.”

    Er, I think the argument in these cases has been that the young men in question are deeply psychologically disturbed, and that the girlfriends, even if younger, were in a position to prevent the disturbed young men from harming themselves but instead recklessly (or worse) encouraged them to harm themselves. The point of these cases (whether I agree or not) is that those in a position to prevent psychologically disturbed persons from harming themselves have at least a duty not to encourage them to harm themselves. In other words, if I see a despondent person standing on a ledge outside a window on the 90th floor of a building, I shouldn’t yell, “Go ahead and jump, no one wants you to live.”

    “Some commentators have also pointed out the potentially gendered nature of these claims in the Michelle Carter case, which follow the lore of witches who can coerce men in Satanic ways.”

    These are no doubt the same commentators who end up being quoted during the “Some Idiot Wrote This” segment of the Fifth Column podcast.

    “It will be genuinely interesting to see the public reaction if prosecutors decide to start charging male defendants for encouraging their girlfriends to kill themselves.”

    Perhaps then we will put aside this “vagina good, penis bad,” nonsense and focus on the issue whether, and under what circumstances, person A is responsible for “causing” person B to do something through mere words.

  17. “Some commentators have also pointed out the potentially gendered nature of these claims in the Michelle Carter case, which follow the lore of witches who can coerce men in Satanic ways.”

    Perhaps the dumbest main post sentence in the history of the Conspiracy.

    1. So . . . worst post ever?

  18. she had complete and total control over Mr. Urtula both mentally and emotionally.

    It’s like a bad Vincent Price movie.

    1. Heresy! There’s no such thing!

  19. “You should go rob that bank. Don’t chicken out, go do it. Do it! You can take a bag for the money, get cash from the drawer with a crowbar.” x months

    I dunno…

  20. According to the Federal Government, women are so weak the telling a woman “it’s my birthday,” will make her lose her ability to control her sexuality.

    The feds think that if a woman finds out that it’s a man’s birthday, she feels so obligated to perform that it’s tantamount to rape. And I am certain that it’s not the misogynist Trump appointees who came up with that.

    So if we’re looking to combat the notion that certain genders have the ability to deprive other genders of free will, maybe we should start there.

    1. Holy shit, you’re not making this up or exaggerating.

      1. “Holy shit, you’re not making this up or exaggerating.”

        From HHS:
        “Examples of sexual coercion … ‘Come on; it’s my birthday.'”

        1. I know. I read the website you linked to. Hence my reaction.

    2. “According to the Federal Government, women are so weak the telling a woman “it’s my birthday,” will make her lose her ability to control her sexuality.”

      I would like to point out the potentially gendered nature of that claim, which follows the lore of vampires who can mesmerize women in Satanic ways.

    3. Yeah, important context there is that it’s an example in part of the ‘Wearing you down by asking for sex again and again or making you feel bad, guilty, or obligated’ section

      That’s not meant to refer to a one-time comment.

      Kinda disingenuous of you not to include that context, actually.

      1. “Yeah, important context there is that it’s an example in part of the ‘Wearing you down by asking for sex again and again or making you feel bad, guilty, or obligated’ section”

        “That’s not meant to refer to a one-time comment.”

        The second clause, “…or making you feel bad, guilty, or obligated” is clearly meant to refer to a one-time comment. It is given in opposition to “Wearing you down by asking for sex again and again.”

        1. But you are correct that the federal government also believes that women are so weak that a man asking for sex several times deprives them of the ability to control themselves. I wonder if they think that repeatedly asking a woman to vote for the candidate of your choice deprives her of self-control? If women are as bad as HHS says they are, maybe giving them the vote was a mistake.

          1. That page is about sexual coercion. Coercing a person doesn’t mean removing their ability to control themselves, it means placing unfair pressure on them (often threats of some sort).

            That’s a pretty big piece of context you’re ignoring to make this argument.

            1. “Coercing a person doesn’t mean removing their ability to control themselves, it means placing unfair pressure on them (often threats of some sort).”

              Coerce:to dominate or control, especially by exploiting fear, anxiety, etc.:

              So yes, if men can dominate or control women by telling them that it’s a man’s birthday, as HHS suggests, that doesn’t speak well for women’s ability to control themselves, does it?

  21. ” Some commentators have also pointed out the potentially gendered nature of these claims in the Michelle Carter case, which follow the lore of witches who can coerce men in Satanic ways.”

    It is Massachusetts, home of the Salem witch trials.

  22. Swap it from “suicide” to “act of terrorism”, and “girlfriend” to “undercover police”, and it becomes a clear case of entrapment, which we all should agree makes the police responsible for the crime.

    So it’s not like it’s a new theory, just relatively new in where it’s being applied. And I suspect that’s mostly because modern communications technology leaves a much stronger record of influence then you could have gotten at any previous point of history.

    That said…

    And one cannot help but wonder how a scenario would fare in which prosecutors claimed that an alleged perpetrator committed a sexual offense by exerting “total control” over a victim that was, therefore, no longer able to consent. I am not sure these MA prosecutors are champing at the bit to test that one, even though there is no logical reason their arguments about subversion of will should stop at suicide.

    The lack of a dead body seems a pretty bright line in the sand to me. Dead bodies do have a way of escalating normally non-criminal behavior to criminal behavior. So it’s not like treating cases with dead bodies to a higher a standard is new logic.

  23. “And one cannot help but wonder how a scenario would fare in which prosecutors claimed that an alleged perpetrator committed a sexual offense by exerting “total control” over a victim that was, therefore, no longer able to consent.”

    Uhh, there are numerous cases of that happening. Especially with roofies and the like. It’s kinda the whole #MeToo thing, if you take away the drugs. A bunch of dudes using their position and power to make subordinate women feel like they had no control and that it would be easier to just shut up and put up with it? Universities are prone to casting sexual assault in those terms, since they’re a hotbed of people with substantial power and young, attractive, and relatively naive people.

    1. “Some commentators have also pointed out the potentially gendered nature of these claims in the Michelle Carter case, which follow the lore of witches who can coerce men in Satanic ways.”

      Yup, witches. It’s gotta be witches. Women can’t be responsible for their own actions and they certainly can’t be evil. Nope, some people in the 21st century investigating a suicide case totally believe “the womenfolk are using their black magic to beguile men (into texting them excessively and ultimately jump off a building)!”

      And while witches could supposedly influence behavior (not just men, there was a great genre of older witches bewitching younger women, girls, and boys to participate in the Black Mass), they were more often associated with crop spoilage, bad weather, and illness. Seduction was a classical trope, mostly exterminated by the medieval Church in the centuries after, which did not believe in the existence of witches.

      “Some commentators” might just be wrong.

  24. I really don’t know if the charges have any validity, but sexism? I observe that the DA’s name is Rachael Rollins, and she seems to be female.

    1. She is. First minority women to hold the post. Newly elected.
      UMass and NE SOL.
      Formerly general counsel for MassPort, which runs Logan and the Port of Boston.

    2. That just means she’s internalized the misogyny inherent in the system.

  25. I think the issue here is that the law generally speaking assumes people don’t want to Commit suicide.

    I imagine a descendent who claimed that the deceased voluntarily gave him his car keys and wallet and asked him to kill him. Would a jury believe such a defendant? Should they? In a world where it’s perfectly normal for people to walk over and pay others to kill them, perhaps they should. And perhaps we live in such a world now and have been erroneously prosecuting cases as forcible homicides. But do we want to live in such a world?

    When the defendant is alive, we can ask. But when the defendant is dead, we have to rely on evidentiary presumptions.

    1. That is, Professor Manta’s hypothetical exists to day. When the defendant has both had sex with and killed the deceased, we presume both were involuntary. The evidentiary presumption indeed extends to the sexual component, exactly as Professor Manta posited.

      There is, however, an enormous difference between a case when there is a prosecuting witness alive to answer questions and a case when the alleged victim is diseased. The two are not comparable.

  26. But does she float?

  27. Well she doesn’t have a carrot nose, know that.

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