State Senator Barry Finegold

State Senator Barry Finegold who represents Tewksbury, shown here speaking in the Senate on an unrelated matter, reemphasized his push to pass Conrad's Law, a bill that would criminalize coercing someone into committing suicide. The bill was named after Conrad Roy a young man who killed himself after his girlfriend Michelle Carter pushed him into doing it. She was convicted of involuntary manslaughter several years later.

State Senator Barry Finegold (a Democrat who represents Tewksbury in the Second Essex and Middlesex District), Representative Natalie Higgins (D-Leominster), and Conrad Roy’s mother submitted testimony last week to the Joint Committee on the Judiciary in support of Conrad’s Law (S.1032/H.1640). This legislation was filed in honor of Conrad Roy, a young man who died after his girlfriend Michelle Carter relentlessly bullied and pressured him into taking his own life.

In 2017, Bristol County Judge Lawrence Moniz found Carter guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Roy after she waived her right to a jury trial. He said he based his guilt on phone calls she had with Roy while he was in his truck gassing himself (as described by Carter in texts to her friends), as opposed to text messages between the two. Moniz determined those phone calls caused Roy to go through with killing himself.

The judge then sentenced Carter to a two-and-a-half-year term with 15 months to be served in the Bristol County House of Corrections and five years of probation. Her lawyers took the case to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court who eventually sided with the judge and Moniz’ sentence remained. Carter began her sentence on Feb. 11, 2019.

At the same time, her lawyers also petitioned the case to the United State Supreme Court on the basis that the ruling violated her First and Fifth Amendment rights. They argued Roy had a history of suicide attempts and that Carter actually attempted to talk him out of it. The Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

In January of 2020, Carter was released from prison three months early for good conduct.

In the time since, Roy’s mother, along with Sen. Finegold, has worked to pass Conrad’s Law to make it illegal to coerce someone into killing themselves. It came before Beacon Hill in 2019 and the measure has previously earned support from the Boston Globe, the Lowell Sun, the Eagle Tribune, and other editorial boards.

While the bill received public support, it stalled in the legislature in early 2020, which Finegold attributed to the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. He told The Lowell Sun it has a better chance of passing this time.

“This crucial bill would clarify a gray area in Massachusetts law and make it illegal to coerce someone else into committing suicide,” said Sen, Finegold. “Almost every other state has criminalized suicide coercion, and Massachusetts should, too. Cyberbullying and teen suicide rates have spiked dramatically in the past decade, and the COVID-19 pandemic has made it all the more important to focus on youth suicide prevention. Medical experts are deeply concerned about the pandemic’s long-term effects on the mental health of young people.

“As students return to school in person, we need to make sure they are safe. Passing Conrad’s Law would send a clear message that suicide coercion is unacceptable and subject to criminal liability. This is a common-sense reform that will help save lives.”

A study by Harvard Medical School revealed that between 2000 and 2017, the suicide rate rose by 47 percent among teens aged 15 to 19 (Roy was 18 when he took his own life). The recent rise in cyberbullying is particularly dangerous: according to a 2019 study of psychiatrically hospitalized adolescents, 10 percent were hospitalized specifically because of cyberbullying.

"Conrad Roy's death was an unspeakable tragedy that exposed a clear gap in our laws,” underscored Rep. Higgins. “When a loved one is in a mental health crisis, we expect that those closest to them will do their best to connect them with the resources they need.

“Unfortunately, he did not get that help but was rather encouraged and coerced into committing suicide. With this legislation, we hope Massachusetts will join the 40 other states that recognize the crime of suicide by coercion."

Under the proposed bill, you would be punished with up to five years in prison if you knew someone had suicidal ideation and intentionally coerced that person into taking their own life. As laid out in the bill, suicide coercion entails exercising substantial control over the victim and encouraging them to commit suicide or providing the victim with the physical means (or knowledge of such means) to commit suicide.

In this case, it would be Carter telling Roy to get back in his truck after Roy seemingly had second thoughts, according to Judge Moniz in his ruling. He sad Roy broke the “chain of self-causation” toward his suicide when he exited the truck and it was Carter’s “wanton and reckless encouragement” to return to the truck that lead to his death.

Daniel Medwed, a Northeastern University Law Professor who helped draft the legislation, commented, “Conrad’s Law would fill a glaring void in Massachusetts law, which many states have already filled, and ensure that the punishment truly fits the crime in cases where someone coerces a vulnerable person into committing suicide.”

Currently, courts in Massachusetts have to adjudicate coerced suicide cases under involuntary manslaughter statute, which is not narrowly tailored to the specific crime. The absence of a clear legal standard was one of the main reasons why Carter’s trial resulted in a drawn-out process that forced Conrad’s family into the spotlight.

Conrad’s Law would ensure that the Massachusetts courts do not create a slippery slope of 20-year manslaughter convictions for crimes based on speech. Likewise, the bill makes clear that it does not apply to any medical treatment lawfully administered by a physician to a patient.

Roy’s mother Lynn, who has played a key role in drafting and advocating for the bill, emphasized, “It is not acceptable to coerce an individual to kill oneself, especially when they know a person has entertained suicidal thoughts. Once that line is crossed, we are now entering a territory of evil and immoral behavior, and I truly hope, through the passing on Conrad’s Law, that this type of behavior will soon be illegal and punishable by the laws of this state. As I’ve stated before, if this law can save one life, one soul, one family from the harshest pain, then we have all succeeded.”

In the years since Roy’s death, the tragedy has been covered by both local and national media and turned into a Lifetime Original Movie called “Conrad & Michelle: If Words Could Kill,” starring Austin McKenzie and Bella Thorne and an HBO documentary called “I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth vs. Michelle Carter.” Finally, Hulu announced a series starring Elle Fanning as Michelle Carter called “The Girl From Plainville.” It has not received an airdate, according to IMDB.

(The following is Lynn’s complete written testimony to the Judiciary Committee, which was prepared along with her husband Roland St. Denis.)

I want to thank the Judiciary committee for taking the time to hear this afternoon’s testimony. I came here today to tell you about my beloved son. Conrad Henri Roy III was an affable, kind, thoughtful, and extremely loving young man. He was also very sensitive and during his later years, anxious and wrought with depression. He struggled with today’s technological world, social media, and just fitting in. He was also the perfect target to be bullied.

Despite these perceived negatives in his life, Conrad also managed to be a Dean’s list student and received an academic scholarship; he loved and played sports; and became a tugboat captain at the age of 18. The world could have been his oyster.

Conrad always talked about living in a different time. He truly felt his life would be easier if he had been born in the 1800’s, where a lot of the things he struggled with up to his death had not existed. He was truly an old soul.

There is no doubt my son struggled with anxiety and depression, but he did not deserve to be coerced by an individual with selfish, evil, and deluded motives. No child should ever have to endure that type of onslaught and no parent should ever have to bury their own child. Ever.

Each person he touched, he left a lasting memory because of his compassion, sense of humor, and loving nature. And there are many young adults today who are just like my son. They are loving, caring, empathetic human beings. And they are being bullied, harassed, and made to feel inferior, or even worse.

I am here today to remind you and the people of Massachusetts that it is not acceptable to coerce an individual to kill oneself, especially when they know a person has entertained suicidal thoughts. Once that line is crossed, we are now entering a territory of evil and immoral behavior, and I truly hope, through the passing on Conrad’s Law, that this type of behavior will soon be illegal and punishable by the laws of this state.

As I’ve stated before, if this law can save one life, one soul, one family from the harshest pain, then we have all succeeded. Please keep that in mind when you consider this legislation.

Thank you so much for taking the time today and may God bless all of you.

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