Michelle Carter, the 20-year-old from Plainville who was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in June for encouraging her boyfriend to kill himself, will be sentenced on Thursday.
Prosecutors argued that the disturbing text messages sent by Carter, then 17, to Conrad Roy III, convinced the 18-year-old to follow through on his intentions to end his life. Roy, of Mattapoisett, was found dead of carbon monoxide poisoning in his truck in July 2014.
Carter is facing up to 20 years in prison. The teens, both of whom struggled with depression, met in 2012 but only spent time together in person a few times. Most of their communication took place through text messages and other electronic platforms, including Facebook.
When he presented his decision in the June bench trial, Judge Lawrence Moniz focused on the moment when, prosecutors say, Roy got out of the truck, which was filling with the poisonous gas, and Carter told him to get ‘get back in.’
Moniz said it was Carter’s duty to call for help when she knew he was attempting suicide and that her words constituted “wanton and reckless conduct.”
Carter has remained free on bail since her verdict on June 16. She was ordered not to leave the state or have any contact with Roy’s family in that time
Here are three things to know ahead of Carter’s sentencing in Taunton Trial Court.
What will her punishment be?
Daniel Medwed, a law professor at Northeastern University, said he would be surprised if Carter receives the maximum sentence of 20 years. But he expects Moniz will reach some kind of a compromise or middle ground that would include some prison time.
“I imagine that she’ll get prison time,” he said, adding that a five year prison sentence would be his guess.
“Sentencing is generally a balancing of aggravating and mitigating factors,” he said. “Here the aggravating factors concern her high level of blameworthiness–her truly despicable conduct–and the need for deterrence, the desire to construct a sentence that sends a message to the community that this behavior will not be tolerated.”
The mitigating factors are Carter’s own history of mental health issues and her age at the time, he said.
Medwed said the victim impact statements from Roy’s family could prove very influential, as could letters from Carter’s supporters.
While the verdict of involuntary manslaughter sparked concerns in the legal community over about freedom of speech protections, Carter’s sentence would also have a far-reaching impact.
“A stiff sentence would alert other teenagers to the serious risks involved with urging friends to commit suicide,” he said. “And this message should resonate across the nation.”
Medwed said Moniz will likely hand down the sentence Thursday, either immediately after hearing the various statements or after a brief break. Moniz will also have received a presentence report from the Department of Probation, which will offer a recommendation on the sentence based on its own evaluation of the case, he said.
Conrad Roy’s family wants a tough punishment
Roy’s mother, Lynn, told the CBS program 48 Hours that she doesn’t believe Carter has “a conscience.”
“I think she needs to be held responsible for her actions ’cause she knew exactly what she was doing,” she told the program in June.
Immediately following the verdict, Roy’s father, Conrad Roy Jr. read a statement thanking prosecutors, saying the family was processing a “verdict that we’re happy with.”
According to the Boston Herald, Roy’s aunt, Kim Bozzi, plans to speak at the sentencing and ask for the maximum penalty to be handed down, saying the 20-year-old woman took “calculated” and “planned” action and “should be kept far away from society.”
“Take away the spotlight that she so desperately craves,” Bozzi said in the statement, obtained by the Herald. Twenty years may seem extreme but it is still 20 more than Conrad will ever have.”
Michelle Carter’s friends and family are pleading for leniency
Carter’s father, David, pleaded for leniency in a July letter to Judge Moniz, asking for probation instead of jail time for his daughter who he said made “a tragic mistake,” according to the Herald.
“She will forever live with what she has done and I know will be a better person because of it,” he wrote in the letter, the newspaper reports.
According to the Herald, a former mentor of Carter’s from King Philip High School in Wrentham also pleaded for leniency on young woman’s behalf. Carla Andrews expressed concern in a July letter to Moniz that prison would “dramatically impair and impede Michelle’s development growth.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Michelle Carter is a Plainfield, Massachusetts, resident. She is from Plainville.