You may recall the case of the “worst girlfriend ever” involving Michelle Carter. She’s currently serving a prison sentence for convincing her boyfriend, Conrad Roy III, to kill himself in a torrent of text messages. That took place in Massachusetts. (Carter has since asked the Supreme Court to vacate the decision.) I don’t know if there’s something in the water up there or what, but we now have another, eerily similar case and it’s coming to us from Boston. Inyoung You of South Korea, age 21, is accused of convincing her boyfriend, New Jersey native Alexander Urtula, to jump to his death from the top of a parking garage. The tragedy took place the day Urtula was to graduate from college and his parents were in town at the time. (USA Today)
Inyoung You, 21, of South Korea, was charged in connection with the May 20 suicide death of her boyfriend, 22-year-old Alexander Urtula, of New Jersey, who jumped from the top of a parking garage at a Boston hotel on the morning of his graduation. His girlfriend of 18 months watched, prosecutors said.
Suffolk County District Attorney Rachel Rollins said the couple exchanged 75,000 text messages in the two months leading up to Urtula’s death. She said 47,000 were sent from You to Urtula including perhaps “thousands” urging him to kill himself. Urtula’s family was in town to attend his graduation when he died.
Ms. You has since returned to South Korea and prosecutors are looking into the possibility of extraditing her.
There are a few differences between this case and that of Carter, but not many. For one thing, Carter was dozens of miles away when her boyfriend died, encouraging him strictly by phone and text messages. Ms. You was allegedly there at the parking garage with Urtula when he jumped to his death. But from the few examples we’re seeing of the messages she sent her alleged “boyfriend,” this young woman is just as horrible, if not worse than Carter.
She sent thousands of messages including phrases such as “go kill yourself” or “go die.” She informed Urtula that she, the school and the entire world would be better off without him around. The young man was described by friends as being in a state of “spiraling depression” and despair, largely attributed to his relationship with You.
With all of that said, my conclusion in this case based on what we know so far is no different than that of Michelle Carter. There has been no suggestion that she pushed him off the roof or had any physical contact with him at all. And while she no doubt contributed to his condition, it seems clear that Urtula was suffering from some sort of mental illness. She said horrible things to him, but in the end, it was all just words. Only Urtula could make the choice to jump off that roof and that’s what he’s alleged to have done. If we begin putting people in jail for things they say, no matter how horrible, we’re setting a worrying precedent.
As it turns out, Massachusetts was already working on a new law based solely on the Michelle Carter case even before this latest tragedy took place. Introduced back in July, it’s being called “Conrad’s Law” and it would criminalize suicide coercion, providing a substantially harsher penalty than involuntary manslaughter. Forty other states already have laws like these on the books.
It will probably make many families feel better if abusive friends or lovers can be brought to justice for verbal abuse. Perhaps they’ll even find some measure of closure. But as I said above, we’ll need to keep a close eye on this. It’s a precedent that could wind up catching a lot of other people in a wider net for things they say rather than do. And that should be worrying for everyone.