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Wednesday, December 20, 2023

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 on his Internet journal that was read by 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 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 was extradited to the United States for criminal trial her defense would 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, she would argue that her behavior, while despicable, was not the principle cause Urtula's mental illness and suicide. Her attorney would no doubt also make the point that talking a person into suicide is different that helping a person take his or her life. One is speech, the other a criminal act.
     The above legal issues were never argued because in December 2021, following her extradition to the United States, You pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter. The Suffolk County judge sentenced her to ten years probation. 

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