Last month we learned about the case of Inyoung You, the South Korean college student in Boston who drove her “boyfriend” to kill himself by diving off the top floor of a parking garage. She wound up being arrested and charged with involuntary manslaughter in the death of Alexander Urtula. On Friday, she appeared in court and pleaded not guilty to the charges.
CBS Boston had one of their investigative reporters, Cheryl Fiandaca, take questions about the case against Ms. You this weekend. One of the biggest ones is obviously the issue of how she can be held legally accountable for someone else committing suicide.
Q: What do prosecutors need to prove to show that she is responsible for Alexander Urtula’s death?
Cheryl: The conflict in this case is whether Inyoung You’s actions were a crime or free speech. That is the core question– are these text messages just words, or is it conduct that results in a death?
Massachusetts has legislation pending called Conrad’s Law for Conrad Roy, who took his own life in the Michelle Carter case. That legislation would make coerced suicide a crime.
Fiandaca goes on to compare and contrast Urtula’s death with that of Conrad Roy. As you will recall, Roy also killed himself at the urging of Michelle Carter (the original worst girlfriend ever). The reporter makes the point that a key difference between the two cases is that You was physically present at the garage when Urtula jumped. She says that where Ms. You was physically, is going to be “a big issue.”
I’m not an attorney, but is her physical location really relevant? Michelle Carter was more than fifty miles away from Conrad Roy when he took his life. This woman was in the same parking structure, possibly within sight of Urtula. But in both cases, the couples were communicating via text message. The real question here shouldn’t be whether the “girlfriend” was six inches away or on the other side of the country. It comes down to whether or not speech is a weapon.
Unless it can be somehow shown that Inyoung You pushed Alexander Urtula off that roof (which would be murder), what she was doing was talking, albeit through a digital medium. And it sounds as if the prosecutors are satisfied that she didn’t come into physical contact with him. If that’s the case, then we should pause and consider that Massachusetts is once again preparing to try to send someone to prison for saying things.
Look, I’m not trying to make this into some sort of defense of Inyoung You. She’s a horrible person and I personally hope that she goes back to South Korea and stays there. But if we’re going to start regularly locking people up for the things they say, we’re setting a hugely dangerous precedent. Michelle Carter is still sitting in prison because of the text messages she sent to Conrad Roy. (She’s scheduled for release in May of next year.)
That’s part of the message that Fiandaca seems to be pushing in the linked article. She states that “we are likely going to see more and more of these cases. The law will have to catch up and come up with what the proper charge would be in this case.”
But that assumes that something needs to be done. Even if Urtula was mentally ill (which certainly seems likely), can we truly even say that she was “endangering” him with her horrible words and texts when she wasn’t his caretaker? This takes personal responsibility off the table and turns us into a nation of unwilling nursemaids. If I tweet something that hurts the feelings of some liberal and they run home and drop a toaster in their bathtub, should I expect to be taken into custody?
This entire affair is disturbing beyond words and the impulse to want to see Inyoung You punished is completely understandable. But Michelle Carter put us on a very slippery slope last year. This case may just push us over the edge.