Metro

Adrian Walker

Rachael Rollins takes on her riskiest prosecution with BC suicide case

Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins spoke Friday after Inyoung You’s arraignment.
David L. Ryan
Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins spoke Friday after Inyoung You’s arraignment.

A routine involuntary manslaughter arraignment doesn’t normally merit a front-row appearance by the district attorney, but then there isn’t anything commonplace about the state’s prosecution of Inyoung You.

So it was that Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins appeared briefly in person Friday to watch the beginning of the prosecution of the former Boston College student accused of driving her boyfriend, Alexander Urtula, to commit suicide last spring. Urtula jumped to his death from the roof of a Roxbury parking garage last May, the morning he was to have graduated from Boston College.

It’s a distinctly 21st-century crime, this case alleging that You, over the course of upward of 47,000 text messages, wore down Urtula’s will to live and refused to do anything even as she knew he was on the roof of the garage, threatening to leap.

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This much is certain, even on the basis of a relatively short court hearing: Romeo and Juliet they weren’t. Urtula and You seem to have been locked in a deeply toxic codependency.

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Preemptively, a crisis management firm representing You released some of her texts prior to the deposition, intended to show that she actually tried to persuade Urtula to live. Those texts, they seemed to imply, proved that You clearly intended no harm.

That move may have backfired. In its presentation Friday, the prosecution quoted many of You’s texts, and they were chilling. Most of them were too profane to get past my editors, but here’s one:

“Do everyone a favor and go . . . kill yourself,” she wrote. “Dude, just . . . do everybody a favor and go . . . kill yourself honest.” That’s just one example of many.

Strictly speaking, an arraignment doesn’t require the detailed recitation of incriminating texts presented against You. It was hard not to view it as a response to a provocation from the other side.

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You’s lawyer, Stephen Kim, blasted the prosecution in unusually emotional terms after the arraignment.

“I find it unfathomable that this DA’s office — this so-called progressive DA’s office — in an attempt to grab headlines, is expanding and broadening the homicide laws to try to apply it to this case,” Kim said. “To try to paint an incendiary portrait of this young woman when there are literally thousands of violent crime cases, in this city alone, with true victims, that are going unsolved.”

Absent from Kim’s soliloquy was any real defense of his client’s behavior. But this certainly is the riskiest and most high-profile prosecution that Rollins has undertaken in her year in office, a case that may well come down to trying to make sense of the intent of two troubled minds.

Rollins calmly insisted Friday that if the genders in this case were reversed, few would doubt that this tragedy fits the classic patterns of domestic abuse. “I believe we have a very strong case,” she said, speaking outside the courtroom.

There’s still plenty that is unsettled about the question of what constitutes causing a suicide. One of the most surprising revelations Friday was that You had also at least occasionally threatened suicide herself, though the state characterized those statements as one of her tactics for maintaining control over her “slave,” Urtula.

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A few weeks before he took his life, Urtula sent her a text offering to kill himself, if that would make her happy.

“I’ll go die for you,” he wrote on April 11. “Whatever will make you happy.” A little over a month later, he was gone.

Whether this barrage of texts constitutes criminal behavior — whether anyone is truly responsible for the suicide of another person — is a question that will be settled in court.

But this case is pretty clearly the stuff of great tragedy.

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. E-mail him at adrian.walker@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @adrian_walker.