Part III in a series of reports on Michelle Carter. Parts I and II can be read here and here, and Part IV here.
On the morning of August 11, 2017, Judge Lawrence Moniz, who presided over the Michelle Carter “suicide by texting” trial, acted on a request from the District Attorney’s office to hold an emergency hearing. Assistant DA Katie Rayburn’s expressed purpose was to stop me from writing this blog or anything else about the recently concluded trial (cover letter, Public Record 55). Although the trial was over, the DA’s Office wanted to keep control over the narrative of the girl who, at age seventeen, supposedly talked an older boy into killing himself.
Convicting Michelle Carter of manslaughter for supposedly causing Conrad to kill himself by telling him to go back into a truck filled with carbon monoxide was not enough for the DA. The prosecutors argued for the twenty-year-old young woman to spend 12-15 years in state prison. But the DA for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts received a stinging defeat when Judge Moniz sentenced Michelle to only 15 months in a local House of Corrections. Judge Moniz then showed further leniency by allowing Michelle to remain free for the duration of what will be a lengthy appeals process.
The extraordinary hearing on August 11, 2017 was ex parte, meaning the party at risk in the legal action was not present or represented. My writing was the subject of the hearing, and neither I, nor my legal representation, nor Michelle Carter’s attorneys, who had brought me into the case, were at the hearing.
The DA’s office maneuvered the legal system so that only the prosecutor’s voice could be heard in open court on that day. This orchestrated drama allowed the DA to make damaging, false and uncontested accusations aimed at stopping this blog. The prosecutor’s motion became a press release and the courtroom became a stage upon which to discredit Michelle Carter’s expert in the presence of newspaper and TV media. I only heard about what happened in the hearing after it was over and the media started phoning me.
My natural allies for this emergency hearing were Michelle’s two attorneys, who ordinarily would have given voice to my viewpoint. But Michelle’s attorneys were given less than 24 hours notice of the hearing. One lawyer was out of town on vacation and the other was in a trial. They could not come to the hearing on such short notice and I had no opportunity to provide a rebuttal to the DA’s inflammatory charges.
The DA’s office asked Judge Moniz to stop me from any further and future writing about the Michelle Carter trial or any aspect of that case (cover letter, Public Record 55). This extraordinary motion, called prior restraint or pre-publication censorship, is a major assault on freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
The motion presented to the judge contained falsehoods and unfounded allegations about my writing and even about my supposed intentions for future publishing. With no evidence whatsoever, the DA claimed that I planned to put the sealed (embargoed) medical records of Michelle’s deceased boyfriend into my newly published Michelle Carter Archives.
I was the only psychiatric or medical expert in the Michelle Carter trial and few others had the knowledge or opportunity to examine the DA’s behavior and the trial verdict. The DA was determined to keep control of the narrative of the case by ruining my credibility in the public arena.
Stifling my critical examination of the trial and its issues would also protect the psychiatric drug industry and prevent the further examination of the role psychiatric drugs played in ruining the lives of both Michelle Carter and the young man who killed himself.
The Current Situation
After the August 11, 2017 hearing, my attorney was able to send a rebuttal to the DA’s office and to Judge Moniz, as well as to Michelle Carter’s attorneys. In my response, I rejected the DA’s false claims and reassured the judge about continuing to adhere to the embargo on the medical records of Conrad Roy. I had the permission of Michelle Carter to use her records for my blog and so the DA could not contest that. The judge then scheduled a follow-up hearing on August 21, this time in the presence of Michelle’s attorneys.
We are now awaiting the judge’s final written opinion. Hopefully, he will utterly reject prior restraint of my writing, but considerable damage has already been done. The DA has once again used its prosecutorial authority and media access to delegitimize all views of the Michelle Carter case except its own.
The Threat of Pre-Publication Censorship
In its August 10, 2014 cover letter to its motion, the DA’s Office told Judge Moniz, “The Commonwealth requests this court order Peter Breggin to cease any publication, description of any information he received in the course of this case until further notice of the court” (Public Record 55). They were trying in advance to prohibit me from speaking or writing about anything I had learned from the Michelle Carter case, presumably including anything in the public records and anything I testified to as an expert witness.
The few exceptions that permit prior restraint in American law include federal government interventions based on national security in time of war, and even those are controversial.
Resistance to prior restraint or pre-publication censorship is historically central to freedom of speech and freedom of the press. U.S Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger famously wrote, “Prior restraints on speech and publication are the most serious and least tolerable infringement on First Amendment Rights.”
Stopping the publication of writings in advance of their publication defies the First Amendment. Preventing or punishing people, in advance or not, from talking or writing about their general knowledge of a legal case, including their public testimony at trial, is probably unprecedented.
So what is driving the DA to take such extreme measures to try to stop this blog and anything else I might write about the case?
The Importance of Writing About Michelle Carter
The conviction of Michelle Carter on charges of manslaughter for supposedly telling her boyfriend to get back in his car to die of carbon monoxide poisoning was an enormous injustice. That in itself is reason enough for anyone to write about the case and I am one of the few in a position to do so.
Michelle was not only convicted unjustly, two or more years before the trial the DA began subjecting her to excoriating public criticism calculated to make her seem like a monster. Michelle deserves to have her story told by someone who is not out to harm her.
There is also a public health and safety reason for writing about the case. Both Michelle and her boyfriend, Conrad Roy were prescribed antidepressant drugs that contributed to the ruination of their young lives, and eventually to the lives of their families and loves ones. The public, the healthcare and legal professions, and the scientific, educational, and political institutions of society need to know the harm that psychiatric drugs are inflicting upon millions of children and young people.
How Unusual Was the DA’s Attempt to Stop My Blog?
In the past, I have not only written blogs and scientific articles about my legal cases, I have written an entire book, Medication Madness, based on several dozen legal cases. My decades of writing about my legal cases provide a major source of scientific information about adverse effects of psychiatric drugs on the mental life and behavior of people.
As in Michelle Carter’s case, judges have sometimes sealed records in other cases where I have testified. This is usually done for the protection of drug company interests, but in this case it was to protect the privacy of the deceased Conrad Roy. In every instance, I have tried my best to adhere to these restrictions.
For example, I held back from publishing important information I had analyzed in a Paxil product liability case against GlaxoSmithKline. I did not write about what I knew until another judge later unsealed the records. Then I published one of my most important series of scientific writings about the drug company’s negligence in failing to warn about the risks of suicide, violence, over-stimulation and mania in children and adults. (For more info go here and here.)
I also incorporated the information into my books for professionals and for the public. In short, information from legal cases is one of the most important sources of information about adverse drug effects that harm not only individuals but also public safety.
Throughout this long history of writing about legal cases, no one until now has attempted to use the courts to stop me from writing about anything. In my discussion of the DA’s actions with several experienced lawyers, none of them has ever heard anything like it, including the process of calling an emergency ex parte hearing on a matter that would customarily be dealt with outside the courtroom with a friendly chat between DA and the defense attorney.
How Extreme Was the DA’s Assault on Michelle’s Character?
In 1989, Joseph Wesbecker shot down and killed eight people, while wounding 12 more. He perpetrated this assault at his former place of work in Kentucky. In 1999, Eric Harris, the Columbine High shooter in Colorado, along with Dylan Klebold, shocked the nation and set up endless copycats. Harris and his cohort murdered 12 students and a teacher, while wounding 20 more students and another teacher. More recently, in 2012, I was a consultant to the defense in the sentencing phase of the trial of James Holmes. Holmes stood up in front of the movie screen in a theater in Aurora, Colorado. Heavily armed, he killed 12 people and wounded 70 others in a shooting spree.
I have also been an expert in numerous other legal cases where men have killed their coworkers, friends, girlfriends, wives or children. In one, a mother shot and killed her own young son and tried to beat her daughter to death with a baseball bat. In another, a sixteen-year boy, a year younger than Michelle Carter, stabbed a friend to death while sitting around with another friend.
In not one of these cases did the DA’s office stir up as much hatred against the offender as the Bristol County DA’s office in Massachusetts has stirred up against Michelle Carter. By trying to stifle my portraying Michelle in a more balanced light, the DA is continuing its unrelenting assault on Michelle’s character, even after her trial ended with a conviction. The DA refuses to let go of its need to control what the world thinks of Michelle Carter. If ever there was a disparity in power, and a misuse of power, by prosecutors, it exists between the prosecutors of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and Michelle Carter.
The DA prosecuted Michelle so violently in the press that millions of people grew to hate her without knowing anything about her as a person. As she entered the courthouse for sentencing, a mob gathered and at least one person was shown on TV screaming at her, “Kill yourself!” For these millions led to revile Michelle, the main if not sole source of their information was the stream of highly selective data pouring out of the DA’s office into the mass media.
The prosecutor’s persistent campaign of character assassination against Michelle is especially egregious in light of Michelle’s real character and situation. At the time of Conrad’s death, Michelle was a vulnerable and very loving teenager with serious emotional and medical problems. In addition, like all of the cases cited in this section, Michelle was under the influence of antidepressant drugs that commonly cause compulsively destructive emotional reactions and behaviors, especially in young people. Finally, Michelle was enmeshed in a very self-destructive relationship with an older, emotionally tormented young man who was bent on completing one of his many suicide attempts.
As poorly equipped emotionally as Michelle was to deal with Conrad’s problems, Michelle was even less equipped to go through an unrelenting international hate campaign directed against her in the media by prosecutors representing the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
The Uncommon Factors in Michelle’s Case
I am a psychiatrist with special expertise in the harmful effects of psychiatric drugs. The common factor that brought me into each of the many cases of horrendous violence that I mentioned was exposure to prescription antidepressants close to or during their alleged crimes. I found that the medications played a role in every one of these tragedies. In Michelle’s case, she had been prescribed Prozac at the age of 14 for anorexia and depression, and had been changed to Celexa within three months before her personality was so radically changed that she became irritable, angry, and even pushy as she encouraged Conrad to fulfill his plans to commit suicide.
In other words, exposure to the neurotoxicity of antidepressants, as well as other psychiatric medications, is the common factor in all of the cases I have described.
The uncommon factor, found only in the Michelle Carter case, is the stunning youthful and even childlike innocence of the alleged teenage perpetrator. At the time of Conrad’s suicide, Michelle was innocent in many senses of the word:
Michelle was a girl naively devoted to being as loving and helpful as humanly possible to everyone she met, and she was among the most loved youngsters by peers and adults alike in her small community.
Michelle was also innocent in the sense of living a relatively sheltered life. She had little or no exposure to someone who was emotionally tortured and constantly expressed desperate pleas for help to end his suffering. Conrad had attempted suicide many times before finally killing himself, and had asked her to help him succeed one last time. Conrad also hamstrung Michelle’s efforts to save him over a two-year period by rejecting all her urgings to seek help. He kept her an emotionally isolated prisoner by warning her that the only thing that would make him hate her was if she told anyone about his determination to kill himself.
She was additionally innocent because no one had told her and she did not know that antidepressant drugs often cause a wide range of potentially severe emotional reactions in her and Conrad’s age group. Antidepressants not only increase the frequency of suicide, they commonly cause young people to become hostile, angry, emotionally unstable, and even manic. It impairs their judgment and often causes a deterioration in their overall condition.
I have reviewed several studies in Part I of this series showing that up to 50% of children will develop some adverse effects, often of an antisocial nature such as irritability, aggression, and loss of empathy. Antidepressants frequently cause antisocial behavior in all age groups, with the highest rates in children and young adults.
I have written about antidepressant hazards extensively in books and scientific articles. My book Medication Madness tells dozens of tragic stories with scientific documentation about people who have been driven to behave badly and to commit murder and mayhem on psychiatric drugs. On my website I provide a free resource center called www.123antidepressants.com. It offers many topically organized scientific studies.
Michelle was also innocent legally in that she did not break any existing law in Massachusetts when, toward the end of two years, she began to encourage Conrad to fulfill his long-held ambition to kill himself. It took the Massachusetts Court of Appeals in effect to create new law before Michelle could be tried retroactively for a crime that did not exist at the time it was allegedly committed.
Finally, Michelle lacked criminal intent. From approximately ten days before Conrad died, she did break down and finally agree to encourage Conrad to fulfill his ambition to die. In coming episodes of this story, we shall find that Conrad wanted and asked for help in ending his suffering and getting him to heaven. In her impaired state, Michelle thought she was helping him go to heaven, and in his equally impaired state, he thanked her in his suicide note to her for being so supportive and loving toward him.
Perhaps Michelle’s very innocence, both in her character and her actions, reinforced the Bristol DA’s callous decision to carry out an orchestrated campaign to make Michelle Carter into an object of hatred—someone who could not go unpunished, regardless of the facts or the existing laws about manslaughter in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. I suggest that her innocence “reinforced” their decision to destroy her character pretrial in the media and then in the courtroom—and now even after her conviction and sentencing. We shall find the DA’s office may have other more personal reasons as well for heaping vitriol upon Michelle.
This series about Michelle Carter on Mad in America was briefly disrupted by the intervention of the DA in its effort to halt the publications. During this time, I have remained relatively silent out of respect for the court procedures.
Future reports in this series will include how the DA’s office, who portrayed Michelle as a liar who exaggerated everything to get attention, tried to base its entire case on something Michelle said in a moment of remorse and guilt more than two months after Conrad’s death.
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.