A Massachusetts judge recently ruled that a person’s speech can be blamed for another’s suicide. The case of a 20-year-old female from Taunton, Massachusetts who encouraged her boyfriend’s suicide gained national attention due to its far-reaching implications. If the case stands on appeal, the young woman convicted could face up to 20 years in prison.
Two troubled teens met online in 2011 after which they maintained a virtual relationship through 2014. At the time of the tragedy, the young woman was 17 and the young man was 18. The victim had a long history of depression and anxiety, and had previously attempted suicide. In June 2014, his body was found in the parking lot of a Kmart in Fairhaven, Massachusetts after he had poisoned himself with carbon monoxide inside his vehicle.
Hundreds of text messages were discovered that led up to the suicide in which the young woman had suggested several ways in which the young man could kill himself. These messages revealed that she knew he had a history of depression and no longer wished to live, playing off his insecurities to encourage a death. At the time just before death, the young man stepped out of his truck, which was filling with carbon monoxide, and called her to say that he was having second thoughts. The two spoke for 40 minutes. During that time, the young woman made no effort to dissuade him from the act; rather, she encouraged him to get back in the car and complete the deed.
While the young woman’s actions were arguably atrocious, this case raises several important legal questions. First, can someone be charged and convicted in a person’s death when that person was not at the victim’s side? Can someone be found guilty of killing a person based solely on speech that was exchanged via text or a phone call? Finally, where does a felony murder charge fit into a case like this?
U.S. courts typically pin responsibility for a suicide death when the person pushing another to commit suicide and the suicidal individual are physically together in the same space; however, in this case, the two were miles apart. The fact that the young woman was eventually convicted of involuntary manslaughter sets a significant precedent for future cases like these.
The subject of the actual text messages was the crux of the prosecution’s case against the young woman. While a few texts indicated she had originally tried to help the young man seek treatment for his depression, she eventually latched onto the idea that he should commit suicide after he desperately wanted his life to end. One exchange went as follows:
“I’m trying my best to dig you out,” wrote the young woman to the young man, to which ` he replied “I don’t wanna be dug out” adding later, “I WANT TO DIE.”
After this point, the young woman began to assist the young man with his suicide. Yet how can words be of such intensity that they can establish involuntary manslaughter? Attorney Miller Leonard of Golden Colorado weighs in:
“Since the Massachusetts’ Supreme Court already ruled that the case could proceed, and the trial court denied the motion for judgment of acquittal, the judge, sitting as the finder of fact, is going to have to determine whether or not the facts of this case are such that the text messages were of such a coercive quality to constitute involuntary manslaughter.” He then added, “the Supreme Court of Massachusetts indicated that cases like this are subject to a ‘case-by-case’ basis. That is why there is a trial, and that is what the Judge must determine: are the facts sufficient to warrant a conviction?”
The texts exchanged depicted a graphic sequence in which it can be deducted that the alleged “killer” took advantage of the victim’s fragile emotional and mental state; yet ultimately, it was the victim who took his own life.
If you face criminal charges in the state of Colorado, attorney Miller Leonard is a dedicated defense attorney with over 17 years of experience practicing criminal law, defending such charges as involuntary manslaughter. He is a former Special Assistant United States Attorney, a former State Prosecutor, and a former State Public Defender. Call 720-613-8783 or contact Miller Leonard, PC online to discuss your case.