A former Boston College student has been accused of pressuring her boyfriend to kill himself. An indictment was announced against 21-year-old Inyoung You today. Suffolk County prosecutors claim that You urged her boyfriend, Alexander Urtula, to kill himself. He eventually did so, jumping from a Boston parking garage on the day he was set to graduate from BC.
WGBH legal analyst and Northeastern law professor Daniel Medwed spoke with WGBH Radio’s Arun Rath about the case. This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Arun Rath: First off, obviously, we need to talk about the Michelle Carter case, which comes to mind right away. Carter is the Plainville woman who urged her boyfriend, Conrad Roy, to kill himself via text message. Right now, she's appealing her involuntary manslaughter conviction to the Supreme Court. We should disclose that you are the author of a bill called "Conrad's Law" that specifically criminalizes the act of encouraging or manipulating someone into committing suicide when it's known that they were suicidal. The bill is now pending. Can you talk about the similarities between the Carter case and the details of these charges against Inyoung You?
Daniel Medwed: Well, there are some similarities, of course, in that it involves a couple in which one of them may have preyed upon the vulnerabilities of the other to urge them and eventually perhaps coerce them into committing suicide.
That said, I think there are some pretty strong differences. First, it appears as though, in this case, there was evidence of physical abuse in addition to verbal harassment, so it might be a much stronger case. Second, unlike in the Michelle Carter case, the defendant here, Ms. You, was evidently present at the crime scene at the moment that the victim committed suicide. This means, again, that it's a stronger case because there's an issue in Carter, a lingering issue, about whether the prosecutors met what's called the causation requirement, that they could show that Carter caused Roy’s death, because, after all, he was alone in a car many miles away. His decision, in legal parlance, was arguably an intervening cause that broke Carter's liability. However, in this case, Ms. You was right there - a stronger case for causation.
Rath: Obviously, we're hearing a lot about things like the phone tracking and the text messaging. But the fact that she was there when the young man apparently killed himself makes this qualitatively different.
Medwed: I think that's right. One of the issues swirling around Carter is whether words can suffice for conduct or criminal liability in a case like this. And even though the SJC answered that in the affirmative, that words could count, it's still somewhat of an open question. And there's a chance, of course, the Supreme Court will grant a writ of certiorari and it will go over to the highest court.
Here, it looks like it's more than words, if she was actively at the scene and had engaged in physical abuse in the past. Even so, I am troubled about the idea of using manslaughter to grapple with these cases. It strikes me as a somewhat blunt instrument when maybe a scalpel is in order. And that's one of the reasons I've worked with Sen. Barry Feingold and Rep. Natalie Higgins and their team to draft a state law called Conrad's Law, which you mentioned.
Rath: Do you think in the case of Inyoung You that the First Amendment could come up at all? What kind of defense do you think you might mount?
Medwed: I'm not sure, because, of course, it's such breaking news. I'm not sure exactly what the defense might be. The First Amendment defense to some extent might be limited because of the precedent from the SJC decision that upheld the Carter prosecution and conviction. But it's possible that she could raise a First Amendment defense. It's possible she could raise some of her own issues to the extent, and I'm just speculating here, that that she might have suffered from some mental stresses or potential illness as well that could potentially come into play here as a defense. But at this early stage, I think it's hard for me to know what she's going to claim.
Rath: And also at this early stage, one thing that seems up in the air right now is this: We understand that Inyoung You is currently not in the country. She is apparently in South Korea. Could she be extradited, brought to Boston for trial, or is that going to be an issue?
Medwed: It depends. I think if she complies and appears, then the Suffolk County district attorney's office won't be forced to resort to an extradition request. I'm not intimately familiar with the current status of our treaty with South Korea with respect to extradition, but it's possible that it could result in a struggle or a fight depending on the precise nature of the extradition arrangement with South Korea. But let's hope it doesn't come to that and perhaps she decides to come back to the U.S.