By Beth David, Editor
Michelle Carter, the Plainville teen who has been charged with Involuntary Manslaughter in the suicide death of Conrad Roy III, was in court on Friday to argue that her statements to police, and information from her cellphone should be suppressed.
Mr. Roy’s body was found in the cab of his pickup truck in the Kmart parking lot in Fairhaven in July of 2014, with a gas-powered water pump in the cab. He died from carbon monoxide poisoning.
At the heart of the case is a series of texts and reported phone calls from Ms. Carter encouraging and helping Mr. Roy kill himself, even telling him to get back in the truck when he jumped out as he felt the carbon monoxide working. She was not physically with him at the time. Her attorneys have argued she has a First Amendment right to the speech; the prosecution has argued that it was reckless and dangerous and caused Mr. Roy’s death.
Defense attorney Joseph Cataldo attempted to make the case that Ms. Carter, who was 18 at the time of the interview a few months later, was intimidated by police when she was interviewed at her high school. He said she was not read her Miranda rights and did not know that she had the right to refuse to give police her phone password; she did not know that she could leave at any time; and that she was, in essence, in police custody at the time of the interview.
Representing the Bristol County District Attorney’s office, Katie Rayburn, Deputy Chief of the Homicide Division, made the case that police were not in uniform, the interview took place just off the lobby of the high school, Ms. Carter was not arrested, and she could have walked away at any time.
Detective Scott Gordon of the Fairhaven Police Department told the court that he and officer Matt Botelho did not approach Ms. Carter while she was watching a volleyball game in the gym because they did not want to cause a scene. They had a search warrant for her phone and for any devices at her house that she had access to that connected to the internet.
Det. Gordon said they waited until the game was over and approached her after she sat down on a bench, waiting for her father to pick her up. They moved to a spot off the lobby because there were a lot of people around.
Det. Gordon said that he told Ms. Carter she was free to leave at any time, although that part of the conversation was not recorded.
The entire recording was played for the court. In it, Ms. Carter tells police that she tried to get help for Mr. Roy. She also gives police her password, but does not say it out loud until she is asked to.
That point was taken up by the defense, saying that Ms. Roy was hiding the password from police.
Det. Gordon said he did not think that was the case.
The prosecution also submitted a series of photos of the lobby of the school and the area where the interview took place.
The defense argued that as soon as police asked Ms. Carter to leave her seat and move, with her back to the windows so she could not see her father drive up, that she was in custody and should have been treated as a suspect, with her rights being read to her.
Ms. Rayburn argued that the photos show that she was never in an enclosed space, that it was only logical to get to a quieter area, and that Ms. Carter was in familiar surroundings and had been told that she could leave at any time.
“I would submit that this defendant was never in custody,” said Ms. Rayburn.
Det. Gordon revealed, through a series of questions by Mr. Cataldo, that Ms. Carter had been under surveillance by police and that police had taken pictures of her at a suicide prevention event in Mr. Roy’s honor.
He said it was clear that she was, indeed, a suspect.
After the hearing on the interview, the court heard arguments on other motions made by the defense, including a request for the 2012 Facebook records of a mutual acquaintance of Ms. Carter’s and Mr. Roy’s. The defense wanted to show that Ms. Carter did get help for Mr. Roy by contacting his friend.
Prosecutor Maryclare Flynn said that what Ms. Carter did in 2012 was not relevant. What she did in 2014, was the issue.
“[In 2014] she encouraged him, and now he’s dead,” said Ms. Flynn.
The judge denied the request, saying, “To give wholesale access to a young person’s Facebook page is not appropriate at this time.”
Judge Moniz did grant most of the defense’s requests for money for experts, and records surrounding the previous suicide attempts by Mr. Roy, his school records, and records around a domestic violence incident between Mr. Roy’s parents.
The judge did not make a decision on Friday about the interview or the cellphone records. He will receive briefs from both sides, with prosecutors specifically stating they wanted to refer to a recent case that ruled on passwords.
“Passwords are not testimony,” said Ms. Rayburn.
After the hearing, Mr. Cataldo told the press that he was disappointed that the judge did not rule to suppress the interview that day, but was encouraged that a jury would see that his client’s speech was protected under the First Amendment.
He also explained why he made a point to try to locate the water pump. Court testimony revealed that the pump was returned to the Roy family and its present whereabouts are unknown.
He said the pump is the murder “weapon,” but it was not kept.
“It’s crazy to do that,” said Mr. Cataldo. “It’s Homicide 101.”
He also said his requests for medical records for experts to give information on “mind altering drugs” Mr. Roy was taking will prove his state of mind. Those drugs, he said, are known to cause “suicidal ideation” in teenagers.
Mr. Cataldo said it was “sad” that he had to dredge up the fighting between Mr. Roy’s parents, but it all has a bearing on the case.
“I’m not putting the Roys on trial, I’m defending Michelle Carter,” said Mr. Cataldo. “I don’t like opening up skeletons, but that’s the problem with suicide cases.”
The next scheduled court date is 12/1 for a pretrial hearing.
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