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Saturday, November 2, 2019

The Inyoung You Involuntary Manslaughter Case: When Does Speech Become A Criminal Act?

     In December 2018, 21-year-old Alexander Urtula, a biology major at Boston College, met Inyoung You, a 20-year-old South Korean girl attending the school as an economics major. Urtula was an outstanding student who was active in the college's Philippine Society of Boston, an organization for Filipino students.

     On May 20, 2019, the day of his graduation from Boston College, Alexander Urtula was deeply depressed and suicidal. As recorded in his personal journal, witnessed by his classmates and family members, and documented throughout the 47,000 text messages he had received from Inyoung You, Urtula had been the victim of intense and prolonged psychological abuse committed by his South Korean girlfriend.

     To control Alexander Urtula and isolate him from his friends and family, You repeatedly threatened to harm herself if he didn't do what she demanded. And what she demanded, in the weeks leading up to Urtula's graduation, was for him to take his own life. In her text messages she wrote things like "Go kill yourself," and "Go die."

     On the morning of May 20, 2019, the day of the college's graduation ceremony, Inyoung You used her cellphone to track the despondent Urtula to the roof of a parking garage in the Roxbury section of Boston. With You standing on the parking garage roof not far from him, Alexander Urtula jumped to his death. Allegedly, You made no attempt to dissuade him from leaping from the structure.

     In August 2019, three months following Urtula's suicide, Inyoung You withdrew from Boston College and returned to South Korea.

     Suffolk County prosecutor Rachael Rollins, in October 2019, presented a case to a grand jury that returned an indictment against Inyoung You on the charge of involuntary manslaughter. The rationale behind the charge involved You's reckless disregard for Urtula's life by intentionally tormenting him with psychological abuse that included telling him to kill himself. To make this case, the prosecutor would have to establish a direct casual relationship between You's abuse and Urtula's death.
     At a press conference held following the grand jury indictment, prosecutor Rollins told reporters that You's "abuse became more frequent and more demanding in the days and hours leading up to Urtula's death."

     If Inyoung You is extradited to the United States for criminal trial, her defense will include the argument that her text messages and other forms of communication with Alexander Urtula were constitutionally protected as free speech under the First Amendment. Moreover, that the defendant's behavior, while despicable, was not the principle cause Urtula's mental illness and suicide. Her attorney will no doubt also argue that talking a person into suicide is different that helping a person take their life. One is speech, the other a criminal act.

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