To many, it was an open-and-shut case.
Conrad Roy III was 18 years old when he fatally poisoned himself by inhaling carbon monoxide in his pickup truck in a Kmart parking lot in Fairhaven, Massachusetts in 2014.
Though his death was ruled a suicide, investigators discovered Roy had been encouraged by his long-distance girlfriend, 17-year-old Michelle Carter, to kill himself.
Carter was arrested and charged with involuntary manslaughter in Roy’s death, and what followed was trial that became a media frenzy and a ruling that could set legal precedent for whether it is a crime to tell someone to take their own life.
Well before Bristol County Juvenile Court Judge Lawrence Moniz issued his ruling in 2017, most following the “texting suicide case” had made up their minds on the question of Carter’s guilt. And by the time Moniz reached a verdict, many believed Carter to be a cold-hearted sociopath who convinced her boyfriend to kill himself to elicit sympathy while playing the part of the grieving girlfriend.
But as “I Love You, Now Die” shows, Erin Lee Carr’s two-part documentary series premiering Tuesday on HBO shows, there was much more to the case and Roy and Carter’s relationship.
“So many tragedies took place,” Carr said of the case as a whole to InsideEdition.com.
Courtroom footage and interviews with experts and Roy’s loved ones are featured alongside the countless texts and calls Carter and Roy sent each other. Having met only several times, theirs was a relationship largely conducted through technology, which some in the documentary argued exacerbated its toxic effects.
“We are in this incredible moment where we are so lonely and we cannot sit with ourselves,” said Carr, whose other films also explore the effect technology played in the crimes their subjects committed.
“As an adult, it’s fine, it’s something we can reckon with, but imagine being a teenager and a bubble pops up and someone is attacking you – what do you do with that? How do you process that?” Carr continued. “I feel scared for people who are growing up today.”
The documentary examines the material presented during Carter’s trial first from the prosecutor’s viewpoint and then the defense’s rebuttal. Approaching each installment from opposing views of the court, the film examines Carter’s own mental health issues, her abilities to distinguish fantasy from reality and history of being unable to connect with her peers, creating a fuller picture of a girl many paying attention to her trial wrote off as a villain.
“During the trial, it felt very split down the middle, between the prosecution and what they said happened, and the defense providing an alternative strategy,” Carr said. “It creates a journey for the audience.”
The documentary also examines Roy’s own struggles with mental health and through interviews with his family, the life he had hoped to create for himself before he took his own life.
“She’s scared, she’s lonely, she’s a troubled kid; that doesn’t mean what she did wasn’t wrong … there’s not absolution for Michelle,” Carr said. “This is about Conrad Roy and what happened to him. … Conrad was really special and Conrad is sometimes left out of the story.”
Roy’s mother, father, grandfather, family friend, aunt and one of his sisters were among those who sat down with Carr for the documentary. Carr also usess videos shared with the court system that Roy made in which he discussed his anxiety.
“That was in his trash,” she said of the footage, noting she hoped showing the files he had deleted before his death would help others. “Even if you are a dude, even if you are working as a tugboat captain, mental health doesn’t discriminate.”
Carter’s family did not speak with Carr for the documentary, but she noted how pained her loved ones looked for the duration of her trial.
“They weren’t sobbing, they weren’t heaved over, it was just this incredible blankness,” Carr said of the Carters’ demeanor during their daughter’s trial. “David Carter, Michelle Carter’s father, sent a letter to the judge … expressly begging for leniency, [explaining] what it was like to see Michelle grow up, to see Michelle go through this … they really love their kid, but they were just baffled by what happened.”
Carter was 20 when Judge Moniz ruled she was guilty of involuntary manslaughter in Roy’s death.
She was sentenced to serve two and a half-years, with 15 months to be served in the Bristol County House of Corrections and the rest of the balance suspended. She was also sentenced to five years’ probation.
After exhausting her appeals, Carter was ordered to 15 months in prison in February. It’s Carr’s hope that by the end of her documentary, viewers can decide for themselves if they agree with the case’s outcome, but most importantly, that it will bring about a dialogue about mental health and the importance of communicating one's thoughts and feelings with those in a position of trust.
“You’re allowed to be depressed and be a young man, you’re allowed to have suicidal ideations and there’s nothing wrong with you asking for help, it does not make you weak,” Carr said. “And if someone is reaching out to you and expressing suicidal thoughts … contact someone and know that is the right thing to do.”