Rachael Rollins defends charging Inyoung You for Alexander Urtula’s suicide

"This case is different than Michelle Carter."

Boston, MA - Inyoung You is escorted after her arraignment outside of Suffolk County Superior Court in Boston, Mass. on Friday, Nov. 22. (Nic Antaya for The Boston Globe) Topic: 24bctexts
Inyoung You is escorted after her arraignment earlier this month at Suffolk County Superior Court in Boston,. –Nic Antaya / The Boston Globe

Suffolk Country District Attorney Rachael Rollins isn’t budging on her office’s decision to press charges against the girlfriend of a Boston College student who committed suicide earlier this year.

Prosecutors say that Inyoung You — a 22-year-old South Korea native currently on leave from BC — coerced her boyfriend, Alexander Urtula, into killing himself hours before his graduation in May, following a relentless “barrage” of emotional abuse. However, the defense team in the case is arguing that You, who is charged with involuntary manslaughter, has been unfairly maligned. And they even released text messages showing that she desperately urged Urtula against committing suicide in the moments leading up to his death.

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But according to Rollins, those texts are overshadowed by You’s prior actions.

“We are releasing the relevant texts to prove our case,” she told WCVB in a televised interview Sunday.

“And I would push back and say in most homicides that we’re dealing with — in particular domestic violence or intimate partner violence — the murderer has done something nice for their spouse or girlfriend or boyfriend,” Rollins added. “That’s not why we’re here today.”

During an arraignment hearing last month, Suffolk County prosecutors presented texts — among the more than 75,000 the couple exchanged — that showed You went as far as threatening self-harm in her alleged campaign pressuring Urtula toward suicide. You’s often demeaning, profanity-laced messages included direct requests that Urtala kill himself, which prosecutors say fueled his spiraling depression.

“Do everyone a favor and go [expletive] kill yourself, you’re such a [expletive] stupid [expletive] worthless [expletive]…dude just [expletive] do everybody a favor and go [expletive] kill yourself honestly,” she wrote two weeks before his May 20 death.

While some civil liberties advocates have expressed concern about the constitutionality of manslaughter charges based solely on speech, Rollins has said You’s action crossed the legal threshold of “wanton and reckless” conduct and failing to alleviate the life-threatening conditions she allegedly created.

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“I think we have exited the area of First Amendment free speech,” Rollins said Sunday.

The Democratic district attorney noted that Massachusetts courts have upheld the conviction of Michelle Carter on manslaughter charges, after the Plainville woman repeatedly urged her then-boyfriend, Conrad Roy III, over the phone to follow through on his suicidal thoughts — even though groups like the American Civil Liberties Union have opposed the conviction. Carter’s lawyers are currently appealing the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Rollins also, however, noted that there are key distinctions between the Carter and You cases. Whereas the communications between Carter and Roy took place almost entirely over the phone, You and Urtula had an 18-month, in-person relationship. The nature of the alleged offenses was also different, according to Rollins.

“Listen, this case is different than Michelle Carter,” she said. “With Michelle Carter there was not a physical, intimate relationship that was significant, and there was heinous behavior at the end.”

Rollins said You’s actions were “almost the opposite.”

“We have a barrage [that amounts to a] meticulous, relentless, pathological breakdown of this individual, Alexander Urtula, by somebody who claimed to love him,” she said. “And although it was a toxic relationship, we believe Ms. You’s behavior clearly entered into the criminal.”

The 48-year-old prosecutor also commented that the sheer volume of texts between You and Urtula was “even extreme for me.”

“I think it’s generational,” Rollins told WCVB. “I think, in the younger communities of individuals, the way you and I would pick up a phone and speak to each other or might actually stand face to face and have a conversation, texting is the way nowadays that people are interacting … And so this is a situation where the law has to catch up with what the world is doing right now. But we are very confident in our case.”

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Massachusetts is currently one of the 10 states in the country that does not explicitly criminalize suicide coercion, though some lawmakers are looking to change that with a bill dubbed “Conrad’s Law,” which would make pressuring someone with suicidal thoughts to kill themselves a crime punishable by up to five years in prison. Rollins said Sunday that she has been watching the effort “very closely” and did not rule out lobbying Beacon Hill on the subject. That said, she also asserted that the case against You didn’t depend on any new legislation.

“We would love more tools, but we’re going to use the tools that we have,” Rollins said.

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