“Manslaughter via text” case may be lesson for teens & parents

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WBTW) – Dorien Morin-van Dam joined News13 NOW at 9 a.m. on Tuesday to talk about a recent legal case that may be a lesson to teens and their parents. In the case, a judge in Massachusetts found Michelle Carter guilty of involuntary manslaughter in relation to the suicide of Conrad Roy. Some have called the case a landmark because a large part of Carter’s involvement appeared to be via text messages.

Roy was 18 at the time of his suicide in 2014. Carter was 17, making her 20 at the time of her conviction earlier this month. Records of Carter’s texts show that for many weeks, she had been sending Roy messages about suicide – something he had tried before and something he often considered on his own. Many of the texts encouraged Roy to commit suicide The two teens had been texting and talking on the phone up to the point at which Roy died from filling his pick-up truck with carbon monoxide. They were 40 miles apart from each other at the time, but the judge found Carter contributed to the suicide because of her words.

He also said Carter had knowledge of the suicide as it was happening, but she did not report it – something the judge called a disregard for Roy’s life. Her inaction when she knew about the situation was a major factor in the judge’s conviction decision. That factor may be an important reminder for parents to teach their children that they have an obligation to act if they hear about a dangerous situation on social media or in texts, Morin-van Dam said.

Carter will be sentenced in August. For more details, find a reverse timeline from the day of Carter’s conviction in the “related coverage” box at the beginning of this story.

Watch the video to hear more on how parents may use this case a learning tool for their kids. An outline of the interview is below:

1.) ***LEGAL – CONTRIBUTING TO SUICIDE***
-**ERICA:  THIS CASE DIDN’T INVOLVE “SOCIAL MEDIA” EXACTLY, BUT IT DID INVOLVE A LOT OF NON-VERBAL COMMUNICATION… AND OF COURSE A LOT OF SOCIAL MEDIA IS ALSO NON-VERBAL.
DORIEN, WE’RE NOT GOING TO GET INTO ALL THE LEGALITIES, BUT YOU DID SOME RESEARCH AND FOUND PEOPLE HAVE BEEN FOUND GUILTY OF CONTRIBUTING TO A SUICIDE IN THE PAST.

– **DORIEN:  YES, ONE OF THE FIRST CASES WAS IN 1958, ALSO IN MASSACHUSETTS. A MAN SHOWED HIS WIFE HOW TO LOAD AND HOLD A GUN TO COMMIT SUICIDE. HE PLEADED GUILTY TO INVOLUNTARY MANSLAUGHTER.

2.) ***WORDS MATTER. THESE DAYS IT’S OFTEN IMPERSONAL***

-**BRANDON: THEN WE HAVE THIS CASE, THAT AGAIN CENTERS AROUND LOTS OF TEXTS – THERE WERE TEXTS AT LEAST TWO YEARS OLD – IN WHICH MICHELLE ENCOURAGED CONRAD TO COMMIT SUICIDE…. THEN ULTIMATELY WHEN HE STEPPED OUT OF HIS TRUCK, SHE TOLD HIM OVER THE PHONE, VERBALLY, TO GET BACK IN THE TRUCK AND FINISH IT… AND HE DID.
A LOT OF WHAT INFLUENCED THE JUDGE WERE THOSE TEXTS, NOT JUST HER VERBAL WORDS. WHAT’S THE TAKE AWAY, DORIEN?

-**DORIEN:  WORDS DO MATTER… HOWEVER, SOMETIMES ONLINE/TEXTS MAKE PEOPLE LESS HUMAN/EMOTIONAL/PERSONALLY CONNECTED.
Moral – Kids need to be taught compassion and it needs to be reiterated and re-enforced over and over. That means spending time with kids. Not spending time online or on the smart phone.
Communication – Social media has taken the place of in-person communication – taking the place of real one-on-one interaction. With a text, tweet or post you only get one dimension. You don’t see the person, hear the intonation of their voice or read their body language.

3.) ***ONLINE/TEXT RESPONSIBILITY. SETTING RULES***

-**ERICA:  ONE OF THE MAJOR DECIDING FACTORS FOR THE JUDGE IN THIS CASE WAS THAT MICHELLE KNEW ABOUT THE SUICIDE SITUATION, BUT SHE DIDN’T DO ANYTHING TO TRY TO STOP IT.  SO THAT GOES BACK TO KIDS (OR ANYONE) SHOULD KNOW:  IF THEY ARE MADE AWARE OF A DANGEROUS SITUATION, EVEN ON SOCIAL MEDIA OR TEXT, THEY HAVE AN OBLIGATION TO REPORT IT.

-**DORIEN:  THAT’S WHY RULES AND EXPECTATIONS ARE IMPORTANT.
Parenting – parents often aren’t aware of the dangers of social media, texting, and the internet. Danger lurks everywhere. Awareness and constant education are important. Parents also should set firm rules and boundaries of what’s allowed, and what is not, starting at an early age.