Opinion by C J Oakes
Relationships are never easy. They are especially difficult when one party to the relationship is mentally unstable. Yet, when a person is faced with a romantic entanglement that is met with constant claims of suicide, what can be done? As Michelle Carter of Plainville, Massachusetts discovered, it does not pay to turn mean.
Depression, Suicide, and the Criminal Line
The line between criminal and mean is thin at times. When people are involved in a relationship, arguments can sometimes turn mean. This is caused by hurt and frustration, both of which are common when dealing with a person who is depressed and mentally unstable. In such situations, if a person cannot handle the relationship, it is best to just end it as kindly as possible.
Michelle Carter did not do this. After starting a relationship with Conrad Roy III while vacationing in Florida, she quickly learned of his mental instability. However, caring for Roy she tried on numerous occasions to help. She did what any caring person would do. Trouble is, she was inexperienced and could not help the young man.
Naturally, her help turned to frustration and eventually to her encouraging him to kill himself. He did. And therein lay the problem.
Rather than seek help from those trained in the field of psychology, rather than continue to encourage Roy to seek help, rather than seek to prevent his suicide, Carter tried another ploy. Maybe it was a well-intentioned attempt at the popular notion of reverse-psychology (which never works). Maybe it was frustration with the boy. Maybe her initial caring turned to hate and she acted out of meanness and spite.
We cannot say what exactly were Carter’s intentions. What we can say is that her words and her mode of transmitting them played some role in the suicide death of Roy.
What we can say is that Michelle Carter’s actions crossed a line into criminal behavior.
When Carter began to text Roy to kill himself, she crossed a line into collusion. It matters not whether a person wants to rob a store or kill another, when another person encourages the behavior, they become complicit in the criminal act should it be carried out. Suicide is a crime in every state, so Michelle Carter did collude with Conrad Roy III to commit a crime.
But she went further, which caused the state of Massachusetts to seek charges for causing his death. Why?
Testimony was heard that Roy was attempting suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning. When he grew frightened and expressed this to Carter, the young women texted him, “Get back in.” He did as she told him, making this a case of assisted suicide, a crime.
Bigger Issue: Assisted Suicide by Text
The bigger issue at play in the Michelle Carter case is the role of technology and peer-pressure in causing the death of Conrad Roy III. This has been an issue in the news often of late as bullied students across America are committing suicide because of pressure brought on by text messages and social media.
Clearly, technology as it relates to social media, texting, and instant video all play a role in ratcheting peer pressure to new levels. But just how far can the courts go in holding teens accountable for stupidity, for making foolish decisions common to youth?
No, the new face of crime is not pretty. The new face of crime is mired in mistakes that once were not even possible. Were text messages non-existent, Michelle Carter could not have encouraged Roy as she did. Sure, she could have spoken to him by phone, but the outcome may have differed. The impersonal nature of texting technology allowed her to be as ugly or as cynical as she wanted. In a moment when Conrad Roy III most needed the humanity of a person to save him, the disconnect provided by technology permitted tragedy.
As it turns out, the tragedy fell to both. Michelle Carter, though charged as a juvenile, may face a sentence of 20 years.
Update: On Thursday, August 3, 2017, Michelle Carter was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to 2 1/2 years incarceration. Read more at MSNBC.