Judge delays sending Michelle Carter to prison

Michelle Carter cries while flanked by defense attorneys Joseph Cataldo, left, and Cory Madera, after being found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the suicide of Conrad Roy III, Friday, June 16, 2017, in Bristol Juvenile Court in Taunton, Mass. The trial of Carter, who sent her boyfriend, Roy, a barrage of text messages urging him to kill himself when they were both teenagers, raised questions about whether words can kill. (Glenn C.Silva/Fairhaven Neighborhood News, Pool)

TAUNTON, Mass. (WPRI) — A judge sentenced Michelle Carter Thursday to serve 15 months behind bars, but delayed sending her to prison until after she is able to appeal her manslaughter conviction.

The ruling came down after an emotional hearing in which the parents of Conrad Roy III blamed Carter for their son’s death.

Judge Lawrence Moniz, who found Carter guilty of involuntary manslaughter in June, sentenced Carter to two and a half years at the Bristol County House of Correction, with 15 months to serve and the remainder suspended with probation. He then granted a motion by the defense for a stay of the sentence, which means she won’t report to prison until all her state appeals are exhausted. Federal appeals will not be included in the stay.

“She gets to go home tonight to her nice home,” said Jimmy Brodeur, a relative of Roy, after the sentencing. “She has to stay in Massachusetts, she could be at Six Flags tomorrow. What kind of justice is that?”

Bristol County District Attorney Maryclare Flynn said she was disappointed in the judge’s decision to stay the sentence.

“We remain as we always have, steadfast in our belief that Michelle Carter committed involuntary manslaughter and needs to be held accountable,” Flynn said. “We hope that the trial in the very least brought more awareness to the complex issues of technology in our society, the way our words can impact one another and the way that we treat each other.”

Flynn had asked the judge to sentence Carter to 7-12 years in prison, while the defense had requested five years supervised probation with no jail time.

Judge Moniz, who is retiring from the court, said the reason he granted the stay until after the appeal is because “the conviction may be reversible, but the time spent in prison is not.” He also ordered that Carter not profit off of her crime in any form, including by participating in a movie or writing a book.

Roy, 18, who was in a romantic relationship with Carter mostly through text messages, died by suicide in July 2014 after using a generator to fill his pickup truck with carbon monoxide in a Fairhaven parking lot.

Roy’s sister, father and mother presented statements to the judge before the sentencing, describing the pain of their loss and the impact it has had on the family.

“Michelle Carter exploited my son’s weaknesses and use him as a pawn,” said Roy’s father, Conrad Roy Jr. He said his last words to his son were “I love you.”

“Coco was sensitive, loving, intelligent, compassionate,” Roy said. “I cannot begin to describe the despair I feel over the loss of my son.”

Carter’s defense attorney Joseph Cataldo argued his client would be better rehabilitated if she underwent mental health treatment, and said she regretted her actions. He also said Carter was hoping to get her broker’s license and become a real estate agent.

Carter did not personally address the court.

Cataldo said his appeal strategy will be “to argue…that Massachusetts does not have an assisted suicide or an encouragement of suicide law in place,” and also a first amendment argument. The ACLU of Massachusetts has also said Carter’s conviction violates free speech.

Carter’s appeal could go all the way to the Supreme Judicial Court, which already weighed in against her back in 2016.

During the trial back in June, prosecutors presented thousands of text messages between the two teenagers that showed them planning the suicide. Carter repeatedly encouraged Roy to go through with his attempt, even when he expressed doubts or fears.

“When are you doing it?” Carter asked in one of the text messages. Roy responded by asking about Carter’s day.

“When are you gonna do it?” Carter asked again. “Stop ignoring the question.”

Judge Moniz’ decision to render a guilty verdict hinged on evidence that Roy had exited his vehicle when he started to feel the effects of the poisonous gas, only to be told to get back in by Carter, who was talking to him on the phone at the time.

While the actual order to get back in was not documented in a text message, prosecutors presented multiple texts between Carter and friends in which she told them she had instructed Roy to get back in the truck.

The defense team unsuccessfully argued that Roy was responsible for his own suicide, and that Carter was “involuntarily intoxicated” by antidepressants when she encouraged him to kill himself. The judge dismissed the intoxication argument as not credible.

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