Who Is Michelle Carter And Why Is Everyone Talking About Her?

If everyone you know has been uttering the phrase, “I love you, now die” this week, it’s not because they want to murder you (I hope). It’s because HBO released a two-part documentary on the death of Conrad Roy III called I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth vs. Michelle Carter. Or you might know it as the Michelle Carter documentary. Whatever you know it as, the documentary covers what became known as the “texting suicide case” that garnered national media attention back in 2014. Damn, was it really that long ago? Time flies when all you do is watch true crime documentaries. As I mentioned, the documentary is two parts, and before you ask (because literally everyone has been asking me), NO I haven’t finished yet, but I watched the first part last night and it’s about an hour. That is to say, the documentary is obviously long, so if you don’t have time to watch the whole thing but still want to be able to talk about the Michelle Carter documentary at work/parties, read on because I’m going to do my best to explain wtf is going on.

Who Is Michelle Carter?

Michelle Carter, now 22 years old, grew up in Plainville, Massachusetts. Her parents are Dave and Gail Carter, and according to Cosmo, her mother designs and stages property interiors for real estate agents, and her dad is the sales manager at a forklift company. Oxygen reports that she was “known for her overly cheerful demeanor” and was voted “Most Likely To Brighten Your Day” at King Philip High School. However, HBO paints a different story—according to I Love You, Now Die, Carter was needy, lonely, and didn’t have many friends. And as for why we are talking about her? She was thrust into the spotlight after July 12, 2014, when her boyfriend, Conrad Roy III, committed suicide, and she was later convicted of involuntary manslaughter for her role in his death.

What Was Her Relationship To Conrad Roy III?

According to EsquireCarter and Roy met while visiting relatives in Florida, and lived in different towns in Massachusetts. They lived about an hour away from each other, according to I Love You, Now Die. They began a long-distance relationship that lasted about two years, and only met in person five times. The New York Times reports Carter referred to Roy as her boyfriend, though he supposedly did not view her the same way. They both reportedly had histories of mental health issues—Roy had previously attempted suicide, and Carter battled with an eating disorder and depression. Both had been prescribed antidepressants.

What Was Her Role In Conrad Roy III’s Death?

According to HBO, after investigating what appeared to be a “standard case of suicide”, investigators discovered shocking text messages on Roy’s phone. They found that Carter had sent many texts over the course of multiple days, urging him to commit suicide. Although Esquire reports that initially, back in June 2014, Carter urged Roy to seek help for his depression and suicidal thoughts, by July, she’d done a complete 180. Whereas in June 2014, Carter texted Roy, “The mental hospital would help you. I know you don’t think it would but I’m telling you, if you give them a chance, they can save your life”, in the time leading up to Roy’s suicide, she said, “You can’t think about it You just have to do it? You said you were gonna do it like I don’t get why you arent “. And she didn’t send him a one-off “kill yourself” text—she sent dozens of texts, and even spoke with Roy after he got out of his vehicle and expressed reluctance to go through with the attempt.

What Happened In The Media?

Speaking mainly from my own recollection of the media coverage at the time, plus what was put forth in the first part of I Love You, Now Die, Michelle Carter was pretty immediately painted as an evil manipulator who basically coerced her boyfriend into committing suicide. This happened for a few reasons. In addition to the texts, there was the fact that Carter conducted a “dry run” of Roy’s suicide days before, lying to her friends and telling them Roy was missing, even though she was in contact with him the entire time. She texted one of her friends, feigning feeling responsible for the “disappearance”, and the friend consoled her. In court, prosecutors alleged that Carter got enough sympathy from the dry run that it convinced her to go through with urging Roy to actually end his life. Additionally, a few months after the suicide, Carter hosted a “Homers For Conrad” fundraiser in her hometown—not Conrad’s—and, according to the HBO documentary, was insistent that she receive the credit for the event. Essentially, prosecutors and the media claimed that she urged her boyfriend to commit suicide so she could benefit from the sympathy of being a grieving girlfriend.

This is where the HBO doc comes in. I Love You, Now Die, at least in the first part, attempts to put forth a more nuanced narrative. Carter’s lawyer argues that she was a lonely, troubled girl with a number of mental health issues, and a psychiatrist who testified for the defense claimed she was experiencing delusions after recently switching her antidepressants. A young woman being portrayed as evil in the media when the situation might be a bit more complicated than that? Never! However, I’m going to go ahead and reserve judgment until I finish both parts—but a quick look at Twitter will tell you that people are d.i.v.i.d.e.d.

What Happened At The Trial?

Michelle Carter was charged with involuntary manslaughter in February 2015, and the trial began June 2017. According to the judge in the trial, it was not the texts themselves that made Carter culpable for Roy’s death, but rather, it was a final phone call where he got out of the truck and she convinced him to get back in. The call itself wasn’t recorded, but Carter later recounted the call in a text to a friend, saying, “Sam his death is my fault like honestly I could have stopped him I was on the phone with him and he got out of the car because it was working and he got scared and I f*cking told him to get back in.” Her ordering Roy to get back in the truck and failing to summon help made her guilty, according to the judge. However, Carter’s lawyers argued that there was no proof she commanded Roy to get back in the truck, and pose that she may have just claimed later on in the text to have done so. Additionally, it’s not normal for people in Massachusetts to be held liable for another person’s suicide, though there are a few other cases where it happened.

Carter was convicted in June 2017, and Judge Moniz sentenced her to 15 months in prison. However, he allowed her sentence to be suspended until she had exhausted appeals at the state level.

What’s Michelle Carter Doing Now?

In February of 2019 (damn, the justice system moves slow), the Massachusetts State Supreme Court upheld the judge’s decision, and Carter is currently serving her sentence at Bristol County House of Correction adult facility. (Although she was 17 years old at the time of her conviction, she is now 22.)

But we’re not done yet. On Monday, Michelle Carter filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court to review her case, claiming that her texts to Roy constitute free speech. If you watched Making A Murderer, then you would know that the U.S. Supreme Court is the highest court, and basically the last resort for appeals. You’ll also know that the Supreme Court only reviews a fraction of cases they get sent, and does not have to explain why it decides not to review a case if it gets passed on. So basically (not a lawyer, just a true crime podcaster), we don’t know whether this case will end up going to the Supreme Court, but if it does, we can expect many, many follow-up documentaries.

If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for a list of additional resources.

Images: Nicole_Cliffe, erinleecarr, ColetteLuke / Twitter; Getty Images