Ex-nurse to appeal aiding suicides conviction
Tuesday, March 15, 2011; 9:26 PM
FARIBAULT, Minn. -- A former nurse accused of seeking out depressed people online and encouraging two to kill themselves was found guilty Tuesday of aiding the suicides of an English man and Canadian woman.
William Melchert-Dinkel, 48, was charged in April with two counts of aiding suicide for allegedly advising and encouraging two people to take their own lives. Mark Drybrough, 32, of Coventry, England, hanged himself in 2005, and 18-year-old Nadia Kajouji of Brampton, Ontario, jumped into a frozen river in 2008.
Melchert-Dinkel declined a jury trial and left his fate to a judge, who issued his verdict Tuesday.
Rice County District Judge Thomas Neuville once again rejected Melchert-Dinkel's argument that his actions amounted to free speech. Melchert-Dinkel was not merely advocating ideas about suicide, Neuville said, but engaging in "lethal advocacy." Neuville scheduled his sentencing for May 4.
Defense attorney Terry Watkins said he and his client were disappointed with the verdict and planned to appeal. He said they didn't dispute the facts as the judge laid them out in his 42-page ruling, but respectfully disagreed on whether they added up to proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
After sentencing, Watkins said, their next stop will be the Minnesota Court of Appeals, and they're prepared to appeal to higher courts if necessary. He said the appellate courts will have to answer whether Melchert-Dinkel's actions rose to the level of a crime or were protected speech in the context in which they occurred.
"We will carry this as far as judicially allowed," Watkins said.
Prosecutors said Melchert-Dinkel, of Faribault, Minn., was obsessed with suicide and hanging and sought out potential victims on the Internet. When he found them, prosecutors said, he posed as a female nurse, feigned compassion and offered step-by-step instructions on how they could kill themselves.
Rice County Attorney Paul Beaumaster said Melchert-Dinkel told police he did it for the "thrill of the chase." Prosecutors said he acknowledged participating in online chats about suicide with up to 20 people and entering into fake suicide pacts with about 10 people, five of whom he believed killed themselves.
"I think justice was served," Beaumaster said after learning of the verdict. "I think it was a just verdict based on the facts of the case, and convictions were earned on both counts."
Drybrough's mother, Elaine Drybrough, said if Melchert-Dinkel had been cleared it would have sent a signal to other people contemplating similar actions that encouraging suicides is permissible.
"He's been told it's not all right," she said.