By Roger Bennet Adler
Michelle Carter’s conviction in Bristol, Mass., Juvenile Court of the crime of involuntary manslaughter, following a bench trial before Judge Lawrence Moniz, exposes Carter to 20 years in prison for her role in instigating the suicide of the emotionally unstable Conrad Roy III.
Media reports indicate Carter is reportedly clinically depressed herself, and knowingly sent numerous text messages urging Roy to follow through on a voiced suicide intent. The judge found that Carter had a duty to contact someone to help once she knew Roy was in the process of physically taking his own life. At one point, she reportedly voiced the view, “I couldn’t have him live the way he was living anymore.”
To contemplate Carter’s cruel, controlling behavior is to recognize man’s inhumanity to man. We will never know if, had help been summoned, Roy’s life could have been saved. Rather, Carter’s decision to aid and abet Roy in his desperate act to bring closure to deep emotional pain becomes a new anecdotal marker in a downward spiral of society’s finding new ways to turn away from helping others.
Carter’s conviction, and Roy’s death, comes at a time when opioid abuse has led to alarming increases in overdoses and death. States like Ohio are in crisis mode, Staten Island families are struggling and mourning, and Long Island suburbs are afflicted. We are all at risk, and nobody is immune.
It is unclear whether Carter will ultimately be imprisoned and if so, for how long. That is a question prudently left to Judge Moniz’s sound discretion, and will likely then be considered by appeals through the state of Massachusetts court system, and perhaps even the United States Supreme Court.
For the Roy family, the events surrounding their troubled son’s death are little short of gut-wrenching. The innocent joys and potentials of childhood have given way to questions, guilt and likely, understandable rage that Carter did not see Roy’s behavior as a “cry for help,” but rather reportedly an opportunity to generate sympathy on social media viewed as the deceased’s mourning girlfriend.
Curiously, the A.C.L.U. has brayed that Carter’s conviction, in its view, violates free speech. Others might say that such a view trivializes the First Amendment and—just as is the case when crying “fire” in a crowded theater—falls outside Constitutional protection. As a society, we continue a downward slide in which personal morality is now behaviorally optional, and a new normal is pondered. We can and must do better, because as New York judge, and then U.S. Supreme Court justice, Benjamin Cardozo reminds us, “Danger invites rescue.” When the denizens of Kew Gardens left Kitty Genovese to die a violent death, we recoiled in horror. Where do we go now?
Roger Bennet Adler is a practicing attorney in New York City and previously served as counsel to various state Senate committees