As depicted in the HBO two-part documentary, I Love You, Now Die, Michelle Carter was convicted in 2017 of involuntary manslaughter in what became known as the "texting suicide" case of Conrad Roy. The story behind the case is nuanced, and no figure has been more vocal about this than Carter's defense attorney, Joseph Cataldo.
CONTENT WARNING: The below story contains detailed descriptions of a case involving death by suicide. This content may be triggering for some readers.
Cataldo is a prominent local criminal specialist, and has worked to establish the case as complex and to show his client as different from her persona in the media. According to him, Carter is not a cruel, heartless person who ordered someone to commit self-harm, but instead a young person suffering from mental health issues who was reacting to someone (Roy) who took it upon himself to kill himself, of his own volition.
This is not Cataldo's first high-profile case. He previously represented Terry Glynn, former Patriots football player, when he was accused of assault. But this is likely Cataldo's most public case to date, and one in which he has argued voraciously against setting a potentially dangerous legal precedent. Can one be convicted of manslaughter by simply encouraging someone to kill themselves? In other words, can words stand in for actions, even though Carter was not physically there to help Roy in his actions?
Notably, he hasn't argued that Carter's actions were right, simply immature—influenced by another ill and unhappy person (Roy), and potentially impacted by the antidepressants she'd been taking.
Throughout, Cataldo has emphasized that the case is far more complex than it first appears to the untrained eye. For over a year and a half (as depicted in the documentary), Carter encouraged Roy not to kill himself, but then her attitude seemed to change. Without this important context—Conrad seemingly hoping to "help" her boyfriend in a twisted kind of logic, per the defense's psychiatrist—the text messages look more outrageous and criminal than they actually were, he argues.
In February 2019, just before Michelle was taken into custody to begin serving her 15-month sentence, Cataldo said, "Rest assured, this legal battle is not over." He vowed that he would take the case to the Supreme Court, saying, "This should be up to the highest court in the land."
"This is an extremely important issue," he added, "and the Supreme Court should weigh this and what is says about today’s technology. It’s hugely important to address this issue." So, at least for Carter and Cataldo, the case isn't over yet.
If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States at 1-800-273-8255.