Review Of I Love You, Now Die written and directed by Erin Lee Carr
This two-part HBO documentary looks at the manslaughter case against Michelle Carter, the seventeen-year-old accused of encouraging her boyfriend to commit suicide through text messages.
The first part concerns the prosecution’s case against Michelle. Prosecutors painted Michelle as a lonely teenager desperate for attention. In their version of events, Michelle encouraged her boyfriend, Conrad Roy, to commit suicide solely as a way to gain sympathy as the grieving ex-girlfriend. Ex-schoolmates and other acquaintances testified as to how Michelle seemed to relish her newfound attention. The lynchpin of their case was the idea that Michelle, at one point, told Conrad to get back in his truck after Conrad expressed doubts about going through with it. That’s the story told in the media and drummed up by people like Nancy Grace.
You may have a completely different opinion of the case after watching the defense side of the story. Several key facts changed my opinion about Michelle’s complicity. For one, both Conrad and Michelle were on psychiatric drugs. One well-known side-effect of these types of medicines is suicidal tendencies. Conrad had expressed suicidal thoughts to Michelle previously, and she had tried to talk him out of it. Conrad also had a failed suicide attempt months before the incident in question. It was his actions alone that caused his death. In Michelle’s mind, she was acting to comfort him not encourage him.
An element to the case new to me was the connection that Michelle had with popular culture, particular the TV show Glee and the film The Fault In Our Stars. Both shows had storylines dealing with young deaths. Michelle connected with the female characters.
Another important detail involved the relationship between Michelle and Conrad. They had only met in person five times. Their relationship existed mostly through text messages and phone calls. There is doubt as to whether or not they ever had sex together. There is also a question as to Michelle’s sexuality.
The judge hearing her case convicted Michelle of manslaughter based almost entirely on her telling Conrad to get back in the truck. Conrad killed himself by carbon monoxide poising. One problem, though, is that there wasn’t any direct evidence that she even made that comment. Most people assumed that she did it through a text message. No such text message exists. Instead, Michelle made that statement in a text message to a friend after the fact.
Conrad and Michelle spoke on the phone before and during his suicide attempt. So it is entirely possible that she did tell him to get back in the truck. But is that enough to convict someone of manslaughter? Say you drive up to someone who is about to jump off a bridge. Let’s say that you call the guy a loser and tell him that the world would be a better place if he went ahead and jumped. Are you guilty of manslaughter if he jumps and kills himself? What if you made the same comments in a text message?
After hearing both sides of the story and reviewing all of the evidence, I believe Michelle’s conviction was a miscarriage of justice that has now set a dangerous precedent. Say you have a couple involved in a bitter divorce. The husband or the wife sends a text message to the other person telling them that they wish they would go kill themselves. Is that person then guilty of manslaughter if the husband or wife follows through?