Police Look for Culpability in Web Suicide Case

Police are investigating the suicide of a teenager on Justin.TV, specifically looking into any possible culpability for those watching --- and goading him on.

Abraham K. Biggs killed himself on camera last Wednesday night. Some watched in disbelief, and some watched and egged him on, saying "Do it, do it" in forum postings.

One response to Biggs' posting his suicide note was particularly harsh:
"You want to kill yourself? Do it, do the world a favor and stop wasting our time with your mindless self-pity."
While the question of iw whether or not goading someone on can be prosecuted, I always think back to the TV show Law & Order ... though a TV show, their use of the "depraved indifference murder" charge, while quite possible, is probably overused. And, a quick search of "depraved indifference murder" turns up a number that were overturned. As heinous as the reactions of people to Biggs' suicide note and video might be, it's not murder, but it might be something else.

As A. Randall Haas, a criminal lawyer in Ft. Lauderdale, FL told C|Net:
"It all comes down to how much is contributed to the victim being able to do the act. If you tell me you're depressed and want to kill yourself and I hand you a gun, I could be found criminally liable. If someone is on the edge and you help give him a push then you may have to answer for that. What has to be decided is whether communicating with someone over the Internet rises to the level necessary for someone to be considered culpable."
And while Florida criminal statute 782.07 says: "The killing of a human being by the act, procurement, or culpable negligence of another ... is manslaughter," this is pretty much the same as any sort of crime "committed" over the Web: I'm in New York, or even Russia: how do you prosecute me under Florida law, and is that even possible?

And is this another case of how numbed some may be in our current technological society. Jeffrey Cole, a professor who studies technology’s effects on society at USC told the New York Times that:
Online communities “are like the crowd outside the building with the guy on the ledge. Sometimes there is someone who gets involved and tries to talk him down. Often the crowd chants, ‘Jump, jump.’ They can enable suicide or help prevent it. The anonymous nature of these communities only emboldens the meanness or callousness of the people on these sites. Rarely does it bring out greater compassion or consideration.”