Debate Forum 09/22

With friends like these…

By Tim Walker

Here are a few sobering statistics: according to the Centers for Disease Control, suicide is the third leading cause of death in this country for young people aged 10 to 24. It takes 4,600 young lives each year, and more teenagers—more than those who die from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza and chronic lung disease combined.

When Massachusetts teenager Conrad Roy, 18, killed himself in July of 2014, he put an end to a struggle with severe depression that had bedeviled his entire short life. Medicated and even hospitalized, the young man was tired of trying to rise above his illness and found himself on the losing side of the battle. Repeatedly, in desperation, he turned to his girlfriend of two years, Michelle Carter, seeking comfort via phone calls and text messages to her. She, in turn, encouraged him to end his life.

“There is no way you can fail,” she texted him back at one point. “You’re strong… I love you to the moon and back and deeper than the ocean and higher than the pines, too, babe forever and always. It’s painless and quick.” Carter helped Roy devise a plan to kill himself with a running gas-powered water pump placed in the cab of his truck. On the night of his death, he climbed out of the truck, at one point, short of breath and determined not to go through with his plan. He texted Carter, and she told him to get back in the truck, which he did.

Make no mistake: This was no suicide pact. At no point did Michelle Carter intend to join Conrad in the Great Beyond.

Fast forward one year. Michelle Carter, now 18, has been charged in a Massachusetts court with involuntary manslaughter for her actions related to the death of Conrad Roy. With an upcoming hearing Oct. 2, Ms. Carter’s lawyer has asked the judge to dismiss the case, stating that the defendant had encouraged Conrad to get help many times and was ultimately “brainwashed” by her boyfriend into supporting his plan to end his life.

The legal term “involuntary manslaughter” refers to “an unintentional killing that results from recklessness or criminal negligence, or from an unlawful act that is a misdemeanor or low-level felony (such as DUI).” To make the point more succinctly, imagine that you’re sitting in a crowded movie theater and suddenly begin shouting “Fire!” In the inevitably resulting stampede, several people are killed. While you did not intentionally cause the death of those people, your actions might still fit comfortably within the legal definition of involuntary manslaughter, and you might then have to face charges.

Many argue that the same should go for Carter. They claim there is strong legal evidence to support her being charged with manslaughter, even though she was nowhere near the scene of the incident.

But did Conrad Roy’s death really result from Michelle Carter’s actions and were those actions legally negligent or reckless? Opponents to Carter’s manslaughter charge may argue that a text alone is not enough to kill someone. We all have free will, they argue, and Roy’s death was of his own doing—no different than if he had gotten the idea from television or a video on YouTube. There’s a can-of-worms element to this as well: If someone fatally crashes their car into a tree while reading a text message, is the text-sender responsible for the driver’s death?

Tim Walker is 50 and a writer, DJ, and local musician. He lives with his wife and their 2 children in Dayton, where he enjoys pizza, jazz and black t-shirts. Reach him at


The text test

By Don Hurst

The Bristol County Prosecutor believes that the blame for Conrad Roy’s suicide falls on Michelle Carter, Roy’s seventeen-year-old online girlfriend. Carter did not purchase the generator that killed Roy, in fact she never even touched it. She did not drive Roy to the K-Mart parking lot to die. She wasn’t even in the same town on the night of his death.

Despite this lack of proximity, the indictment argues that Carter committed involuntary manslaughter, “an unlawful homicide unintentionally caused by an act which constitutes such a disregard of probable harmful consequences as to amount to wanton or reckless conduct.”

The prosecution asserts that Carter’s text messages and phone calls were so wanton and reckless that they caused an adult man to commit suicide against his own wishes. In the month preceding Roy’s death, the two engaged in several conversations where Carter advised him to overdose on Benadryl and carbon monoxide so that his suicide will be quick and painless. She even provided details on the parts per million of noxious fumes that it would take to die. When Roy raised doubts about the plan she urged him on by saying things like: “you just need to do it” and “[you have hit the point] where there is nothing anyone can do to save you.”

While Carter’s conduct is morally reprehensible, is it criminal? The prosecutor argues that her relentless pressure completely subjugated Roy’s free will. The state cites the 1961 court case of Persampieri v. Commonwealth as the legal justification to charge Carter. In that instance, a husband told his emotionally disturbed and intoxicated wife that he was divorcing her. The victim threatened to kill herself with a rifle but did not know how to operate the weapon. Persampieri loaded the rifle, handed it to his wife, showed her how to work the safety and then told her to kill herself.

There is a drastic difference between handing a loaded rifle to a drunk, hysterical woman and sending text messages with emojis to a suicidal man. The proximity and age of Persampieri makes it more reasonable to assert that his actions caused his wife’s suicide. The case against Carter mainly rests on the notion that free will is so fragile that the text messages of a seventeen-year-old girl can cause us to kill ourselves.

Bristol County will need to build more courthouses to try all the cases where victims fall prey to peer pressure. As of yet they have not indicted any cigarette company executives or convenience store employees who sell cigarettes on the behalf of those who have died from smoking related illnesses. The prosecutor’s moral outrage seems misplaced.

In court filings the prosecution focuses primarily on convincing readers that a teenager girl’s text messages are lethal weapons. This argument seems farfetched. As a believer in free will I can’t agree that text messages, no matter how eloquently phrased, would reasonably cause an adult to commit suicide. However, buried in the revulsion of Carter’s messages, the prosecutor nails a concrete reason why Carter should be charged with involuntary manslaughter. Massachusetts case law makes it clear that omissions of acts also constitute wanton and reckless conduct.

Phone records and Carter’s own statements prove that she had a 47-minute phone conversation with Roy while he committed suicide. During this time she knew he had overdosed on Benadryl. She knew that he was inhaling carbon monoxide in a K-Mart parking lot with the intent to die. When he stumbled out of the truck and told her he was scared to die, she knew he was impaired, and yet she told him to get back into the truck. She listened to his dying moans, knowing that at any time she could call the police and save his life.

Not only did Carter know that she was causing Roy’s death, but she also knew that her conduct was possibly illegal. While listening to Roy die, Carter sent text messages to his family asking if they knew where he was. Carter claimed to be worried about him and wanted to make sure Roy was OK. Even before Roy died, Carter worked on establishing an alibi. She even deleted all the incriminating text messages from her phone. These actions speak to a guilty mindset.

Carter’s detractors paint her as a manipulative sociopath who deliberately drove a vulnerable, mentally ill boy to his death for the thrill and the attention. That is possible. It is just as possible that she is just an immature child who exercised poor judgment resulting in tragedy. What is not debatable is that knowing a person is dying and failing to do anything to save them is involuntary manslaughter under Massachusetts state law. It is appropriate for the prosecution to lay the facts in front of the jury to decide if Carter is a criminal.

Reach DCP freelance writer Don Hurst at

Accountability is needed for suicide promotion

By Rob Scott

Right off, I want to advocate (and note that the month of September is Suicide Prevention Month)—if you or anyone you know is contemplating suicide, get them help. Regardless of the reason of viewing suicide as an option, please contact Dayton’s Suicide Prevention Center at 937.229.7777.

Now, to the issue at hand—whether someone can be charged with manslaughter by advocating for a person to commit suicide. This is something many people will certainly take moral issue with, but legal issues are another question entirely. Many would believe there is no way someone would actually advocate suicide for someone who is physically healthy, but possibly struggling mentally.

Advocacy of suicide has occurred in many cultures and subcultures. Confucianism is an ethical principle that believes one should give up one’s life, if necessary, either passively or actively, for the sake of upholding the moral values of altruism and righteousness. An example would be during World War II, when the Japanese would commonly sacrifice themselves in war, which was tolerated in their culture.

On the Internet, there are websites and forums for the support of suicide. Some people form online suicide pacts with others they meet online.

This issue is playing out in reality in the U.S.

A court case out of Massachusetts that depicts a disturbing picture of young love gone horribly wrong is gaining national attention as it raises questions about whether encouraging someone to commit suicide makes you legally responsible for that person’s death. Michelle Carter, 18, is facing an involuntary manslaughter charge for allegedly convincing her former boyfriend, Conrad Roy, to kill himself last summer.

Prosecutors say Roy had spoken of his desire to kill himself several times, and that Carter would encourage him to do so, texting him things like “You’re finally going to be happy in heaven. No more pain,” in one message, and even gave him suggestions for how to kill himself by hanging or carbon monoxide poisoning.

Carter’s attorney argues that his client’s messages are protected by the First Amendment as free speech, and that Roy was completely responsible for his own death because Carter took no physical actions to make him kill himself.

This isn’t the first time that this sort of issue has been in focus. There has been a continuous debate over whether encouraging suicide is the same thing as assisted suicide. Last year, a former nurse was convicted of assisting suicide for going on suicide chat forums and encouraging people to kill themselves. The decision was ultimately reversed by the Minnesota Supreme Court, which ruled that while assisting suicide is illegal, advising and encouraging suicide is not.

One of the most famous examples is Dr. Jack Kevorkian and his conviction of second-degree murder for performing what is known as physician-assisted suicide. Dr. Kevorkian helped terminally ill patients kill themselves. He set up a system for them, providing a pain-free cocktail, equipped with a button for self-administration. As a result of pushing the button, the cocktail would flow into the person eventually killing them. Kevorkian didn’t push that button. His patients did.

According to news reports, Dr. Kevorkian only assisted those who were deemed terminally ill and who were in pain. This is an obvious difference between the teenage love story and a doctor offering physician-assisted suicide.

Under the law, in order for a crime to occur there must be an act, the mental state in order to commit the act and a cause of the act. Carter’s attorney is claiming that because she was not the physical cause of her boyfriend’s suicide, she cannot be charged with the crime of murder.

Additionally, her attorney claims that Carter has a First Amendment right for the advocacy of suicide and that she was exercising that right. The claim is that Ms. Carter is an advocate of suicide and that she was expressing that to her boyfriend, encouraging his thoughts on it. Her attorneys are likening it to beliefs that align with the Ku Klux Klan or other protected speech.

Ultimately, the issue is a collision of basic criminal law principles with the First Amendment right to Free Speech. Morally, most would truly believe that the actions Ms. Carter advocated are reprehensible—not too many folks in society would support them.

The key question is whether the sole purpose of the law is to keep society safe from harm and to encourage fairness. The simple answer is yes.

Ms. Carter may not have physically murdered someone, but she definitely was complicit in the incident occurring. I do not believe that the law will allow her to be convicted for murder, and of course a jury of Ms. Carter’s peers will determine factual if she is. Her case is going to be one that will be watched if it truly goes the distance.

Society has a basic premise that life is very important. We put a high focus on saving life at as high of costs as possible.

What Ms. Carter did should be viewed the same as a drug dealer providing the drug to a junkie. She knew her boyfriend was having mental health issues, and she pushed him to commit suicide.

Rob Scott is a general practice attorney at Oldham & Deitering, LLC. Scott is a Kettering City Councilman, founder of the Dayton Tea Party, member of the Dayton Masonic Lodge and Kettering Rotary. He can be contacted at or



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