Content warning: This story contains details on a case involving death by suicide that might be triggering to some readers.
Can text messages kill? According to Michelle Carter's 2017 involuntary manslaughter conviction, the answer is yes. But HBO's latest documentary, I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth v. Michelle Carter, is seeking to change the conversation around the now-famous case surrounding Conrad Roy III's death.
In the words of director Erin Lee Carr (of Mommy Dead and Dearest fame), "I want there to be a debate of can you text someone into killing themselves." Erin also added that she gravitated toward this story because there's much more to it than the attention-grabbing headlines suggest.
Here's what you need to know about Michelle Carter, including why she did it, whether she got jail time, and where she is now.
Why did Michelle Carter do it?
To jump into the story of Michelle Carter and her — I think we can agree on the word "toxic" — relationship with the late Conrad Roy III, it's important to remember the unprecedented nature of this case. In 2012, teens Carter and Roy forged a close friendship, and soon became boyfriend and girlfriend.
Although they met only a handful of times due to distance, the two talked constantly over the phone and exchanged thousands of texts. But when Roy was found dead in his car on July 12, 2014 in what appeared, at first glance, to be a standard case of suicide by carbon-monoxide intoxication, investigators caught a glimpse of his text messages — and the case took an alarming turn.
Roy had previously battled mental health issues and had even tried once before to end his life. But this time, he had Carter helping him, coaching his every move, and even talking him back into the act after he got cold feet about completing his suicide. "You kept pushing it off and you say you'll do it but you never do," reads one text message Carter wrote to Roy in the hours before his death.
"It's always gonna be that way if you don't take action. You're just making it harder on yourself by pushing it off. You just have to do it." In the days leading up to his death, she also egged him on by changing every run-of-the-mill conversation to the subject of his suicide. "When are you gonna do it? Stop ignoring the question. ????" reads an earlier text.
Many think Michelle Carter was inspired by Lea Michele's life and storyline on Glee.
A bizarre and under-reported detail about Carter's case is going to be examined at some length in I Love You, Now Die, according to Erin — namely the fact that many of Carter's text messages were lifted verbatim from Glee and from interviews that actress Lea Michele gave following her on- and off-screen boyfriend Cory Monteith's death by accidental overdose.
"For me, it was the clearest example that Michelle Carter was living in a different reality," the director said in an interview with USA Today. "One of the scarier parts was that Lea Michele's on-camera and real-life boyfriend died due to a drug overdose and it basically set this plan in motion."
"When Lea Michele's boyfriend died," Erin continued, "she was able to grieve, and everybody looked up to her and said, 'You're doing such a good job.' Potentially, I'm not certain, but what if Michelle Carter was like, 'Maybe that could be me.'" Erin describes Michelle as "this quote-unquote 'normal' teenage girl in front of other people" who was harboring "very weird, dark fantasies about being Lea Michele through her texting partner/boyfriend, Conrad, dying."
Did Michelle Carter get jail time? Where is she now?
Seven months after Roy's death, Carter was indicted for involuntary manslaughter in February 2015. Then, on June 2017, she was found guilty and sentenced to two and a half years behind bars, which was later brought down to a reduced 15 months total.
But because her lawyers appealed the 2017 verdict, she was allowed to remain out on bail until February 2019, when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled not to overturn her conviction and rejected her emergency motion seeking to delay the sentence. Judge Lawrence Moniz ordered her to begin serving her 15-month stay on Feb. 11, and she's been at the Bristol County House of Correction since.
I Love You, Now Die airs in two parts on HBO, July 9 and July 10. Erin's were the only cameras allowed in the courtrooms, so this promises to be a documentary not to be missed.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. You can also anonymously text "TALK" to 741741 for free, 24/7.