Monday, 12 June 2017

Murderino Monday: 'Free Speech' Has a Price - Commonwealth vs. Carter.

Credit: MFM Shirts. I need this shirt.
Recently in the news you would’ve the case of Conrad Roy’s suicide, egged on by his girlfriend Michelle Carter. The case is being considered a homicide on the basis of Carter’s texts to Roy, telling him to kill himself, but the defence are playing the role of free speech and Carter’s own mental health issues to try and get her off the hook. Here are several reasons why the case is problematic, and will play a role in bringing mental health (particularly depression) awareness and understanding, either backwards or forwards in time. This is a case of murder.

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will leave mental scars that will take years of therapy to heal.


It’s 2017 and we are still in the age of denying the power that words have. Words are what have recently changed political climates; they have been the foundation of society, they have the power to change thought processes, and yet here we are, in 2017; debating that power and responsibility. We are ready to acknowledge the words that racist, sexist, homophobic slurs have – words that can have legal consequences, yet telling a knowingly vulnerable person to kill themselves is an issue up for debate.

I would like to think, 17 year olds have a basic understanding of what words are, and how powerful they are. 17 year olds know that by using a sweeter tone of voice and changing the normal referral of their parents to “Mummy” or “Daddy” they can get an extra bit of pocket money or permission to stay out a little bit later. 17 year olds know how the letter “x” can make all the difference between a friendly text message and flirty text message. 17 year olds are fully capable of knowing how mean girl tactics can make their peers feel about their own self-image. This is nothing new and something we have all seen in the media: Movies about bullying and suicide aren’t anything new, they have been in literature and film for years, but only now has it started to gain understanding with Netflix’s rendition of Jay Asher’s book “13 Reasons Why.” This case and the series have strong similarities; mainly how the power of words can affect a person’s mental health and stability.


If you hold a gun up to a person’s head, but someone else pulls the trigger, are you still responsible? Are you still implicated in the murder? Do you still play a role in the loss of another life? You didn’t pull the trigger, but you set everything else up in place, including convincing the person to sit in front of the gun. No ropes or ties, but pure conviction. Convincing them that this is what they need and what they deserve.

If a person decides to go out one night and their best friend convinces them to do hard drugs with them – knowing they are young and impressionable and easy to manipulate. They convince their friend to do the drugs, but they end up dying from an accidental overdose. Is the best friend void of any responsibility whatsoever?


Bullying a person and making their life a little bit more difficult, is not a cause for murder. 13 reasons why is simply a case of how harsh words and actions can be and lead a person to do such a thing. The actions of the perpetrators didn’t intend to lead to Hannah Baker’s death, they were instead a result of present conflict, ignorance and sheer malicious intent, but nothing that convinced her to kill herself or explicitly pushing her to do so. They did not know about her mental instability; her battle with depression, and had they known they may have treated her better – things wouldn’t have been as bad. This is not the case with Conrad Roy. Carter was well aware of Roy’s battle with depression, she was aware that he wanted to commit suicide, she was aware that he was struggling, and yet explicitly told him to behave in a way that led to his death.


Suicide is scary. No matter how suicidal a person is, the act itself is can bring fear into a person, and in some cases prevent them from actually carrying out the act. That was the case here. Conrad Roy chose carbon monoxide poisoning, and the minute it started to work he got out of the car and started to panic – this was his own primal instinct battling to fight it out and stay alive. The reason people feel such fear that can prevent them from committing suicide is that primal instinct to survive, and that is exactly what kicked in in that moment for Conrad Roy. Carter at the time was on the phone with Roy, and the moment he got out she had told him to get back inside. In that moment, Carter could have made the conscious decision to save his life and tell him to get out or even call for help, but instead chose to tell him to get back inside – full well knowing he would do so and it would lead to his death.

With the knowledge of his vulnerability and desire to die, Carter played a manipulative game. His fear (as with anyone planning to commit suicide) was the grief that his family would suffer, and Carter had managed to convince him that they wouldn’t go through that – that they would understand. Either she is extremely naïve or knew what she was doing, but his parents would definitely suffer. She knew they would suffer and yet made promises telling him she would make sure that they understood. The absurdity of her claims makes me wonder if she’s really naïve or just that manipulative. Manipulative in the sense that knowing his family wouldn't suffer, almost gave him the perfect reason to do it - almost like an incentive. 


Not to mention, all of Roy's texts and behaviours were screaming out to be heard. He believed Carter was someone who would help him, someone who he could rely on but as a friend and as a fellow human, she let him down. It was all a cry for help and Carter did everything but that. Depression is a disease of resistance, it turns you into a warrior and sometimes the best way to beat it is to accept it and be a pacifist. By accepting it, you don't fight against it, you don't fight against any kind of help you get with the mindset that it doesn't work, but instead you accept that it's a cruel disease and you will open your mind to help options. Carter could have helped him move forward and accept his depression, bring him a step closer to recovery, but all she did was strengthen his warrior view on the world and his disease - that nothing could help him and that he was doomed to feel this way unless he killed himself. The promise that suicide would take away that pain seemed like an incentive enough and all Carter did was strengthen that belief. She backed him onto the cliff edge and forced him to jump - not physically, but mentally - she didn't let him think there was any other way. She didn't give him the chance to believe that things could get better. 


Carter’s defence are using Celexa intoxication as a way out. This is the most absurd thing I have ever heard. Both teens were on the drug, and defence is trying to state that drug intoxication caused her to behave in such a way. The texts encouraging him to commit suicide were from July 8th; anything before that, she had told him she wanted to get help - supporting him in the right way. As Celexa is an SSRI, let’s go through the symptoms of toxicity – Seizures, arrhythmia, renal and respiratory failure. None of these state changes in mental state which convince you to behave in the way Carter did. I have tried to find a way that serotonin toxicity could cause a change in behaviour that would lead her to behave in such a way but at most I can find its effects on aggression – and in that case it keeps it at a stable level. I’m on Citalopram (Celexa is just its brand name) myself and it has done wonders for my aggression, it’s never made me want to manipulate another person into poisoning themselves with CO2 though.


The defence also made a rather insensitive statement regarding Roy’s mental health and stated that he would’ve committed suicide anyway, whether Carter egged him on or not. This is an absurd, insensitive and callous statement to make. Although showing suicidal thoughts, something which may have been exacerbated by the use of Celexa (if he had just started the medication), they would have subsided. If the thoughts were a cause of issues at home, then at the age he was, there was always a possibility of him moving away for university or another reason. There was a possibility of him getting help from school or a therapist, there were plenty of options that may have been explored had he been encouraged to do that. There is no certainty in the defence’s claims – Roy MAY have committed suicide without Carter’s words, but there’s no certainty of that; he may not have. What we are certain of, is Carter’s words were just the key in the ignition. Roy was already raring to go, and even in times of uncertainty, Carter was the one pushing.

Free speech isn't so free after all. In this case, it cost a guy his life.

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