BOSTON — Inspired by the high-profile Michelle Carter suicide texting case, Massachusetts state lawmakers have proposed legislation that would criminalize suicide coercion in the commonwealth.
The bill, introduced Wednesday by Democrats, is dubbed "Conrad's Law" in honor of Conrad Roy III, who in July 2014 died in Fairhaven, Massachusetts by suicide at 18 years old after the persistent encouragement of his girlfriend Carter, then 17.
It comes as Carter, now 22, has filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court seeking to overturn her 2017 involuntary manslaughter conviction that was upheld by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in February. Carter was sentenced to 15 months in prison by a lower state court.
Massachusetts is one of 10 sates that lack laws that explicitly punish individuals who induce others to kill themselves. Rather than being subject to manslaughter, like Carter, the bill would impose a new criminal liability specifically for a person who intentionally "encourages or coerces" a suicide or suicide attempt, punishable up to five years in prison. The offense would extend to cyber-bulling cases that lead to suicide.
Conrad's mother, Lynn Roy, spoke at a news conference at the Massachusetts State House to unveil the legislation.
“‘Conrad’s Law’ has nothing to do with seeking justice for my son," she said. "This law has everything to do with preventing this from happening again to others who are struggling with mental illness and suicidal ideation. If this law is successful in saving one life, then all of this work will be clearly worth it.”
Carter pressured Roy incessantly by text messages to kill himself leading up to his death, which was caused by inhaling fumes in a generator that he put inside a truck. Roy had attempted suicide multiple times and had struggled with depression and mental illness.
Carter had a lengthy phone call with Roy when he was parked in a K-Mart parking lot, where the death occurred, and later texted a friend that she told him to "get back in" the vehicle after he had stepped out.
The case reentered the spotlight this month with HBO's release of a two-part HBO documentary, "I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth v. Michelle Carter."
"Conrad’s death was an unspeakable tragedy, and exposed a clear gap in our laws,” said state Rep. Natalie Higgins, D-Leominster, a lead sponsor of the bill. “With this new legislation, we hope Massachusetts will join the 40 other states that recognize the crime of suicide by coercion.”
The legislation would also punish individuals who provide the physical means, or have knowledge of such means, for another's suicide. To be liable of coercing or encouraging suicide, according to a summary of the legislation, a person must also have "substantial control or undue influence over the victim, or must have manipulated the victim’s behavior through fraud or deceit."
Sen. Barry Finegold, D-Andover, who is carrying the Senate version of the legislation, pointed to rising teen suicide rates, which he said is second leading cause of death among high school students and young adults.
In addition to the Roy suicide, he referenced the 2018 suicide death of Anna Aslanian, a 16-year-old from Lowell, Massachusetts, who had been bullied for years before her death.
"It will send a clear message that this kind of behavior is not only unacceptable, but it is criminal in Massachusetts," Finegold said of the bill. "We want to teach our young people that we all need to be more responsible about how we treat those coping with mental health challenges."
He said the proposed law is a better way to address scenarios like Roy's death and Aslanian's death than a manslaughter charge, which he said can "create a very slippery slope."
"What happened to Conrad Roy and Anna Aslanian can never happen again," Finegold said. Most importantly, we believe that this bill, and hopefully someday this law, will ultimately save lives."
Bill sponsors say they've drafted the bill narrowly to apply only to "certain situations where specific conditions are met." Lawmakers worked with Daniel Medwed, a professor at Northeastern University School of Law who specializes in criminal law, to help with the drafting.
"My concern from the outset of the Michelle Carter prosecution," Medwed said, "was that manslaughter is an ill-fitting suit draped over these types of cases in Massachusetts, and that a targeted, limited statute covering coerced suicide like the one we have drafted is more suitable."
Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Conrad's Law' proposed in Massachusetts in response to Michelle Carter suicide texting case