Case of Teen Prodded to Kill Himself Recalls 1816 Trial

George Bowen was charged with 'murder by counseling' centuries ago
By Brownie Marie,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 13, 2015 6:15 AM CDT
In this Aug. 24, 2015 file photo, Michelle Carter listens to defense attorney Joseph P. Cataldo argue for an involuntary manslaughter charge against her to be dismissed in New Bedford, Mass.   (Peter Pereira/The New Bedford Standard Times via AP, Pool, File)

(Newser) – Encouraging someone to kill himself is horrific, but being charged for it is not new, at least not in Massachusetts. The Boston Globe resurrects a nearly 200-year-old case that it sees as having parallels with that of Michelle Carter, 18, who allegedly pressured her 18-year-old boyfriend, Conrad Roy, to commit suicide last year. "You can't think about it," one of her text messages to Roy read. "You just have to do it. You said you were gonna do it. Like I don't get why you aren't." She faces an involuntary manslaughter charge; in 1816, a man named George Bowen was charged with "murder by counseling." The inmate was accused of advising a man in an adjacent cell to hang himself, which convicted murderer Jonathan Jewett did on Nov. 8, 1815, just before he was to be executed.

The Globe cites a 2010 article in the Historical Journal of Massachusetts that quotes testimony from the Northampton Jail's keeper. He said he heard the two men speaking through the walls, with Bowen at one point allegedly answering a question Jewett posed about how to hang himself: "I would make a string of my bed-ticking, and hang myself to these grates in five minutes." The prosecution argued that as "the most constant" adviser, Bowen was by extension "the most guilty adviser." But he was ultimately acquitted, and the History Journal writes that the case showed "that in American case law it was impossible to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the recipient of the advice actually committed the deed solely because of the suicide counseling." But Bowen was charged with murder, while Carter faces a manslaughter charge; that has her lawyer calling the 1816 case "irrelevant" to his client's. Read more on Carter's case here. (Read more suicide stories.)

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