Michelle Carter is a free woman, and the debate over whether she ever should have been charged with a crime at all continues.
"I was surprised that she even got 11 months," Lynn Roy told People in an interview ahead of the March 29 premiere of the Hulu drama The Girl From Plainville, which revisits the events leading up to her 18-year-old son Conrad Roy III's death by suicide in 2014 and the fallout that ensued.
But Lynn was "satisfied" by Michelle's conviction, she said. "I wanted to make a point that [Conrad's] life mattered, and that was the most important thing to me."
Michelle was 17 when Conrad died and 20 when a judge found her guilty of involuntary manslaughter for telling him on the phone to get back in the car and finish the job when he called to tell her his plan to poison himself seemed to be working and he was scared.
Michelle was sentenced to 15 to 30 months in prison but didn't start serving time until February 2019, after her appeal on the grounds that her texts were protected speech under the First Amendment was denied.
She was released four months early for good behavior on Jan. 23, 2020.
But the confounding tragedy started a still-going conversation about digital relationships, bullying, teen isolation, mental health, free speech and what, exactly, constitutes responsibility. The big question: Was Michelle in any way responsible for Conrad taking his own life?
Though the law determined that Michelle played a role, Lynn still isn't sure to what degree her behavior affected Conrad's decision.
"I wish I knew how he felt when she was messaging that whole month [before he died]," she told People. "I wish I knew what he was thinking. Was she really a friend, or did she really care about him? I mean, for someone to do what she did, how could he think that she cared?"
E! News has reached out to Michelle's attorney for comment.
And with the premiere of The Girl From Plainville, starring Elle Fanning as Michelle and Colton Ryan as Conrad, the case is the subject of conversation once again. (Bella Thorne also played Michelle in the 2018 Lifetime movie Conrad & Michelle: If Words Could Kill.)
Acknowledging the "extremely tragic material" at the heart of the series, Elle, who's also an executive producer, said on Live With Ryan and Kelly March 29, "We really had to treat this story with a lot of sensitivity, obviously. I think the media also really painted this case in a one-dimensional way and we wanted to go deeper inside that and get to know a little bit more about it."
For the 23-year-old actress who "grew up in the age of phones" and "that false sense of reality that you get when you're texting and that instant gratification that we all receive," Elle added, "I think for us we wanted to shed a light on the struggles that young people are facing today, especially with technology and, in this case, how harmful it can be."
Or, in this case, fatal.
Two Hurting Souls
Conrad and Michelle met in Naples, Fla., in 2012 while on respective family vacations to visit relatives. It turned out they lived only about an hour away from each other, Michelle in Plainville and Conrad in Mattapoisett, both small towns in Massachusetts, but their connection was fostered mainly through text messages and emails.
In fact, investigators later determined that they only saw each other in person a handful of times but exchanged thousands of text messages.
After he woke up from swallowing a bottle of Tylenol that October, he texted Michelle and asked if she cared what happened to him. She wrote back, "oh my god is this my fault?"
They shared stories about depression, Conrad revealing he'd tried to take his life and Michelle telling him she'd battled an eating disorder. (She was later treated at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass., for anorexia.)
Michelle and Conrad "were each other's confidante," Erin Lee Carr, director of the two-part documentary about the case I Love You, Now Die, told E! News when the film premiered on HBO in 2019. "I think that you consistently see Michelle Carter reaching out to people for support and Conrad was sort of like this friend that was always in her ear. They communicated so much at these crazy intense intervals, and they really shared things that they had not shared with others."
Carr set out to paint a more complete picture of what happened, wanting to avoid the broad brush Michelle was being painted with in the media, the assumption that she was some sort of femme fatale. The filmmaker told E! that, while she started the project with the opinion that Michelle's actions were "amoral and illegal," by the time she was finished she felt there were "reasons to doubt the conviction."
Michelle and her family did not participate in the documentary, but Conrad's did. Carr told E! that Lynn Roy telling her she had done a good job, after they arranged a preview screening for her at the HBO office, was the best feedback she could possibly get.
Conrad graduated high school in 2014 and was accepted at Fitchburg State University for the fall. On June 13 he made a video on his computer in which he talked about his struggle with depression and a past suicide attempt.
As revealed in all of their digital communication collected by authorities, Conrad told Michelle in text messages that he still thought about ending his life.
In message transcripts shared during her trial, two weeks before Conrad died Michelle had sent him texts such as "Drink bleach. Why don't you just drink bleach?" and "Jump over a building, stab yourself, idk. There's a lot of ways."
"Everyone will be sad for awhile but they will get over it and move on," she also wrote to him. "You just need to do it, Conrad...No more pushing it off. No more waiting."
Conrad's Last Day
They exchanged dozens of texts on July 12, 2014, according to a log of all of their messages that day published by Boston 25 News, starting with Conrad checking in with Michelle at 12:40 a.m. She replied at 4:07 a.m. with "Conrad!" and moments later asked, "Why haven't you done it yet tho?"
At 4:28 a.m. he wrote her, "I really don't know what I'm waiting for.. but I have everything lined up."
She wrote back, "No you're not Conrad. Last night was it. You keep pushing it off and you say you'll do it but u never do. Its always gonna be that way if u don't take action." Then, "You're just making it harder on yourself by pushing it off, you just have to do it." Followed by, "Do u wanna do it now?"
This went on for awhile longer and Michelle wrote "Love you" at 4:35 a.m. Conrad replied, "thank you :)" Her reply, "For what," went unanswered until 9:03 a.m., when she asked if he was awake. At 9:17 he replied yes and then the conversation about when and where he was going to do it continued for hours, interspersed with declarations of love and support from Michelle as she simultaneously told him he should stop thinking so much and just go through with it.
Conrad's last text to Michelle came in at 6:25 p.m.: "okay I'm almost there."
"Okay," Michelle wrote at 6:28. At 9:19 p.m. she wrote, "Please answer me." And then "I'm scared are you okay? I love you please answer."
At 10:38 p.m. Michelle wrote, "You're at your dad's...Camdyn told me. I'll get you help soon I guess." And "I thought you actually did it."
"He called me and I heard like muffled sounds and some type of motor running and it was like that for 20 mins and he wouldn't answer," Michelle wrote in a text to a friend at 9:24 p.m. "I think he killed himself."
Authorities found Roy's body in the afternoon on July 13. He had driven his truck to the parking lot of a Kmart in Fairhaven, Mass., and there was a gasoline-operated water pump in his backseat. Cause of death was determined to be carbon monoxide poisoning.
A few days after his son died, Conrad Roy Jr. found a notebook with Conrad's iPhone and laptop passwords, as well as what looked like suicide notes, according to the Aug. 23, 2017, Esquire article of the same name by Jesse Barron that inspired The Girl From Plainville. One was written to Michelle and said, "Keep strong in tough times. Our songs, listen to them and remember me." Another read, "Dad, I'm sorry I wasn't the boy you wanted."
Michelle attended a wake the family held for Conrad at a funeral parlor in Mattapoisett the following week. Per Esquire, Michelle emailed Conrad's younger sister Camdyn not long after, writing, "Conrad did not kill himself because of bullying like everyone assumes. I know the real reasons." She attached some of Conrad's melancholy messages to her.
Then Michelle emailed Lynn on July 25, according to the magazine, writing, "I wish things could be different, but you need to know that it is not your fault."
Writing back to her, Lynn mentioned to Michelle that a detective was involved with the case (under Massachusetts law, all unattended deaths under violent, suspicious or unusual circumstances are supposed to be investigated), and Michelle at one point asked if there was any news. That August, Michelle's mom Gail Carter also texted Lynn, "I think about you, your family, and Conrad every day. My heart breaks for all of you, as well as for Michelle, who loved Conrad as much as a 17 year old girl could."
On Sept. 13, Michelle organized a suicide-prevention fundraiser at King Philip High School, her senior year just underway.
On Sept. 15, Michelle wrote in a text to a friend (later used as evidence at her trial), "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--king told him to get back in."
In the lengthy message, she also wrote that she couldn't stand seeing Conrad in so much pain, and that therapy "didn't help him." She had tried to get him to check into a mental health facility with her, Michelle added, "but he would go in the other department for his issues but he didnt wanna go because he said nothing they would do or say would help him or change the way he feels."
She continued, "So I like started giving up because nothing I did was helping and but I should of tried harder like I should of did more and its all my fault because I could of stopped him but I f--king didnt all I had to say was I love you dont do this one more time and hed still be here and he told me he would give me signs to know he is watching over me but I havent seen any and I just idk I'm sorry about this rant I just needed to get that off my chest and its finally all sinking in."
Police got a warrant to search Michelle's phone in the fall of 2014. Ultimately, the state's printout of her text messages was 317 pages long. She was indicted Feb. 5, 2015, on a charge of involuntary manslaughter as a youthful offender. After motions to dismiss were denied, she ended up waiving her right to a jury trial, and Judge Lawrence Moniz concluded in 2017 that the teen was guilty as charged.
The prosecution alleged that she badgered Conrad to his death to attract the attention that being the girlfriend of a boy who killed himself would inevitably bring. The so-called smoking gun in their case was the text to her friend in which Michelle claimed she told Conrad to "get on with it," which the prosecution deemed a confession. Michelle did not testify in her own defense at trial.
Moniz considered her statement in her Sept. 15 text that she "could have stopped him" to be the moment when she became criminally responsible. He sentenced her to two and a half years in prison, with a requirement to serve 15 months.
She was allowed to remain free, however, until the state appeals process had been exhausted.
The Fight Continues
When Michelle's initial appeal to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court was denied in 2019, a unanimous decision, Justice Scott Kafker wrote in the ruling, "After she convinced him to get back into the carbon monoxide filled truck, she did absolutely nothing to help him: she did not call for help or tell him to get out of the truck as she listened to him choke and die."
Michelle's lawyer Daniel Marx told reporters, "Today's decision stretches the law to assign blame for a tragedy that was not a crime. It has very troubling implications, for free speech, due process and the exercise of prosecutorial discretion, that should concern us all."
She reported for jail in February 2019.
In a December 2019 brief bolstering their petition to the U.S. Supreme Court to consider Michelle's case, Marx and attorney Joseph Cataldo argued that the state court's decision upholding Michelle's conviction contained "no meaningful guidance for future suicide cases to distinguish involuntary manslaughter from intimate end-of-life discussions."
The U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up the appeal in January 2020.
"I hope that the finality of this decision brings some solace to [the Roy family]," Bristol County District Attorney Thomas Quinn said in a statement, also saying, per Boston's NBC 10, "I am very pleased that the legal chapter of this tragic case is finally closed."
Meanwhile, the state parole board denied Carter's petition for early release in September 2019, stating in their decision that they remained "troubled" not only by her role in "facilitating" Roy's death by suicide, but also that she "actively prevented others from intervening." Furthermore, the board contended, no one had adequately explained her lack of empathy at the time, nor proved that she was fit to rejoin society just yet.
"Ms. Carter's self-serving statements and behavior, leading up to and after his suicide, appear to be irrational and lacked sincerity," the board wrote.
"I think she belongs in jail for a longer time than she even got," Conrad Roy Sr., Roy's grandfather, said at the parole hearing. "I still don't have my grandson back, why should she be out, free to enjoy life, when my grandson doesn't have a life to live?"
Also in 2019, state legislators introduced a bill to make suicide coercion a crime with a penalty of up to five years in prison. Named Conrad's Law, it has the full support of his family but is still working its way through the legislature, opponents having argued that it was attack on free speech and open to far too broad of an interpretation as to what constitutes "coercion."
"Truth be told, if this law existed my son's case would have been settled more easily," his mother, Lynn Roy, testified before state lawmakers in 2019. "What happened to my son is tragic and I don't want another mother to feel the way I do."
Lynn told People in March that she hopes that getting the bill passed will help others, and that's what she focuses on. "I don't want another family to deal with what I had to deal with," she said. Having called his son "a sweet boy that lost his way," Conrad Jr. added, "No parent should go through this."
Lynn had not seen any of The Girl From Plainville, expressing dismay that "there may be an attempt to defend some of [Michelle's] needless and evil actions." Yet she hoped more people would become aware of her son's fate and the ongoing effort to pass Conrad's Law.
Since Michelle's release from jail in January 2020, Bristol County Sheriff's Office spokesman Jonathan Darling calling her a "model inmate" who got along well with others and had no disciplinary issues, the terms of her release included that she be unable to profit from media interest or other publicity of her case.
Her probation is due to end Aug. 1, 2022, after which that no longer applies.