What would Romeo and Juliet look like if set in the modern world? Would their relationship exist over text? Would they say their final goodbyes over the phone? In their texts, real-life American teens Michelle Carter and Conrad Roy referred to themselves as a version of Romeo and Juliet. They may have thought they were living a love story, but to the outside world, it was simply a tragedy — which has become the subject of scrutiny and fascination in the world of true crime.
With the upcoming launch of the new limited series The Girl From Plainville on Thursday, April 21 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on W Network and STACKTV, many people (including us) are wondering about the real-life story of Michelle Carter and Conrad Roy. Whether you’re looking forward to watching the miniseries or you’re just a true crime fanatic who’s curious about the case, the following backstory — informed by details found in the HBO documentary I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth V. Michelle Carter and journalism published in Esquire — will leave you asking questions about the power of technology and how modern romance can go wrong.
DISCLOSURE: The following article contains descriptions of mental illness and death by suicide. If you are in need of help, you are not alone. You can call 1-833-456-4566 toll free, or text 45645, to reach Crisis Service Canada. The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention also has a directory of support services online. If you are in need of mental health support, Wellness Together Canada is another good place to start. Or, for immediate crisis support, text WELLNESS to 741741.
What is the true story behind The Girl From Plainville?
As described in Esquire’s article, “The Girl From Plainville,” Conrad Roy III was found asphyxiated in his truck in the parking lot of a Kmart, not too far from his hometown of Mattapoisett, Massachusetts. Though it was suicide, since there were no witnesses to his death, the police treated his case like an unsolved crime. They searched his phone, which led them to Michelle Carter. That’s when they found the texts.
Text messages between Roy and Carter, over the span of two years, took up 317 pages. They found disturbing text messages where Carter seemed to encourage Roy’s suicidal behaviour. “You just need to do it Conrad. The more you push it off, the more it will eat at you,” one message said. These messages sparked questions about this gripping case — questions about whether someone can be responsible for killing someone over the phone.
How did Michelle Carter and Conrad Roy meet?
Michelle Carter, who was 15 when she first met Conrad Roy, was from Plainville, Connecticut. She didn’t have many friends and was known to act clingy. In February 2012, Carter visited her grandparents in Florida, where 16-year-old Roy happened to be visiting his great aunt. They went on bike rides and spent some time together. Although their hometowns were only an hour away from one another, for the next two years, the majority of their relationship took place over text.
According to Roy’s mother in I Love You, Now Die, the teens only saw each other in person about five times.
Both had serious challenges of their own
As they got to know each other, their text messages revealed how they opened up about their respective issues. He made a suicide attempt the year that they met. She had a serious eating disorder. Their trauma seemed to bond them and bring them closer together, making them more comfortable to talk about it casually. When Michelle was admitted to the hospital to be treated for an eating disorder, she asked him to join her:
“[it] would be so good for you and we would get thru [sic] our issues together. Think about it. You aren’t gonna get better on your own, you know it no matter how many times you tell yourself you are. You need professional help like me, people who know how to treat it and fix it,” she texted.
Roy didn’t get the help he needed. He tried to get away to visit a friend, but his depression followed him. Via text, Roy told Michelle that they were like Romeo and Juliet — “but you know what happens at the end.” He convinced her that he would hate her if she ever tried to tell anyone he was suicidal, and that his mom already knew. Eventually, Carter seemed convinced.
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The summer of Conrad Roy’s death
In the summer of 2014, 17-year-old Michelle Carter said that she wanted to help Conrad Roy. The pair started discussing different ways Roy could die. In the weeks leading up to his last day, Roy texted about second-guessing himself, but Michelle encouraged him to go through with it. As her texts started to get antsy and demanding, his started wondering how his death would affect other people.
A couple of days before his death, Carter texted her friends that Roy had gone missing and stopped answering his phone, that she was worried. Meanwhile, Carter was texting him — asking when he was finally going to go through with it.
On July 12th, Conrad Roy drove his truck to the parking lot of a Kmart and took his own life. Michelle Carter and Conrad Roy spoke over the phone twice that night.
The next day, Carter began texting Roy’s family asking if they’ve heard from him. They found him later that day.
“You tried your hardest to save him,” she texted to his mom, who has since said that she had no idea her son was suffering the way he was, or that her son had a girlfriend.
Over the next couple of months, Carter received more attention than usual from her classmates and friends because of the tragic loss of her boyfriend.
The case against Michelle Carter
While Conrad Roy’s death was undeniably tragic, some may wonder how Michelle Carter was charged for his death — when she was nowhere near him at the time. A single text she sent to a friend became the driving force in the case against her: “I could have stopped him. I was on the phone with him and he got out of the car because it was working and he got scared and I [f***ing] told him to get back in. I could of stopped him but I [f***ing] didnt [sic]. All I had to say was I love you.”
Carter was indicted for involuntary manslaughter, in other words, a homicide charge. The state had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she was the cause of Roy’s death.
Her trial began in the summer of 2017, where a 20-year-old unrecognizable version of Carter showed up to court — hair bright blonde, skin tanned, eyebrows unnaturally dark. Carter dismissed her right to a jury and allowed the judge to be the sole power in her case.
The prosecution’s case built on the notion that Carter was a needy and desperate friend vying for the attention of her classmates, and that she liked the attention she got from being the grieving girlfriend. They pointed to how she had texted her friends that he was missing days before he died, how she had texted Conrad’s sister and mom the day after asking if they knew where he was, and that she had hosted an event in Roy’s honour in her hometown instead of his.
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Can you kill someone over the phone?
Her defense lawyer argued that — whether or not what she did was right or moral — it was not a crime. The idea that words alone can kill somebody is a dangerous precedent to set. Her lawyer enlisted the help of a psychiatrist to speak to the mental health conditions of both parties, especially Carter. Apparently, Carter not only had an eating disorder, but had been suicidal as well. Both Carter and Roy were using medications that could incite a type of “involuntary intoxication” as he called it, “they’re not star crossed, but drug crossed”.
Ultimately, Carter’s sentencing was divided in two parts: the events that took place before July 12th, the day of Conrad’s death, and the day of. Judge Moniz did not find her guilty of anything that took place before July 12th (i.e. the texts or the planning). For the day of his death, the judge determined it wasn’t Carter’s fault that Roy was suicidal or that he took action to take his life. However, it was a crime that she told him to get back in the truck when he chose to get out because he was scared. The judge said that her “failure to act, where she had a self-created duty, constituted each and all wanton and reckless conduct.”
Where is Michelle Carter now?
As noted in Esquire, Carter was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, though she didn’t begin serving her 15-month prison sentence until February 2019. She was released three months early in January 2020 for good conduct. She is under probation until August of this year, after which she can profit off the publicity about her case.
The thing about true crime is that it’s easier to digest when the story has a clear-cut villain, where everything is black and white. Michelle Carter called Conrad Roy’s phone 28 times the night he died. She continued to text his number about how much she loved and missed him. Whichever side you fall on in this case, it’s hard to deny that the motivations and circumstances are more cloudy than they are clear.
Note: If you are in need of help, you are not alone. You can call 1-833-456-4566 toll free, or text 45645, to reach Crisis Service Canada. The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention also has a directory of support services online. If you are in need of mental health support, Wellness Together Canada is another good place to start. Or, for immediate crisis support, text WELLNESS to 741741.