Former nurse found guilty of aiding in suicides by encouraging two people to kill themselves
Freedom of speech is no defense for a former nurse who engaged in “lethal advocacy” when he encouraged an English man and Canadian woman to kill themselves after searching for depressed people over the Internet, a Minnesota judge said in delivering a guilty verdict against the man.
The judge found William Melchert-Dinkel, 48, guilty Tuesday of two counts of aiding the suicides of Mark Drybrough, 32, of Coventry, England, who hanged himself in 2005, and Nadia Kajouji, 18, of Brampton, Ontario, who jumped into a frozen river in 2008. Melchert-Dinkel declined a jury trial and left his fate to Rice County District Judge Thomas Neuville.
Melchert-Dinkel’s attorney, Terry Watkins, said the defense was disappointed with the verdict and planned to appeal. Watkins said 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, given the defense view that the victims were already predisposed to suicide and his online statements didn’t sway them.
In his ruling, Neuville stuck mostly to a dispassionate recitation of the facts in the case. The judge again rejected the defendant’s argument that his actions amounted to free speech, affirming a pretrial ruling he issued in November. He also reaffirmed his rejection of the defense claim that Melchert-Dinkel’s online statements didn’t sway the victims.
“Melchert-Dinkel was not merely expressing ideas about suicide The court finds that defendant’s speech imminently incited the victims to commit suicide, and can be described as ‘lethal advocacy,’ which is analogous to the category of unprotected speech known as ‘fighting words’ and ‘imminent incitement of lawlessness,’” Neuville wrote.
After sentencing, which is scheduled for May 4, Watkins said, his next stop will be the Minnesota Court of Appeals, and the defense is prepared to appeal to higher courts if necessary. He said the defense didn’t dispute the facts as the judge laid them out in his 42-page ruling, but disagreed on whether they added up to proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
“We will carry this as far as judicially allowed,” Watkins said.
Minnesota’s rarely used aiding suicide law carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and a $30,000 fine. Data from the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission show that since 1994, only six people have been sentenced on the charge. One was sent to prison for four years; the rest received local jail time, probation or both.
Rice County Attorney Paul Beaumaster said he would seek a sentence consistent with the earlier cases.
“I think justice was served,” Beaumaster said. “I think it was a just verdict based on the facts of the case, and convictions were earned on both counts.”
Prosecutors said Melchert-Dinkel, who lives in the southern Minnesota city of Faribault, was obsessed with suicide and hanging and sought out potential victims online. 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. Melchert-Dinkel told police he did it for the “thrill of the chase.” 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.
Drybrough’s mother, Elaine Drybrough, said she was glad the judge agreed Melchert-Dinkel was guilty. If he had been cleared, she said, 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.
Kajouji’s mother, Deborah Chevalier, said she’s concerned the penalty won’t be in line with the crime and that Melchert-Dinkel’s appeal will delay a final resolution.
“I’ve said all along that a crime is just as vile and offensive whether it be committed in our own homes or over the Internet,” she said in an e-mail.
During oral arguments in February, Watkins called his client’s behavior “sick” and “abhorrent” but said it wasn’t a crime. He said Drybrough had been ill for years and went online seeking drugs to overdose, while Kajouji was going through a rough time in her life, had a miscarriage after drinking heavily and was depressed. Watkins said they were both intelligent people who wouldn’t be swayed by his client’s online “babbling.”
Beaumaster said Melchert-Dinkel’s intent was to see them die, and the law is designed to protect vulnerable people.
“That’s the point. That’s who he looked for,” he said. “He targeted individuals he knew he could have an influence on. Were they predisposed? Absolutely!”
Minnesota authorities began investigating in March 2008 when an anti-suicide activist in Britain claimed someone in the state was using the Internet to manipulate people into killing themselves.
The Minnesota Board of Nursing revoked Melchert-Dinkel’s license in 2009.
More Related Stories
- 2 more arrested in London attacks
- Glenn Beck: CNN interview with atheist tornado survivor was a setup!
- Incoming BBC news director on journalism gender gap: "We can do better"
- Illegal construction, shoddy materials at fault in Bangladesh factory disaster
- Ahead of Obama's speech, U.S. acknowledges four American drone killings
- Must-see morning clip: Bill O'Reilly visits "The Daily Show"
- Lawsuit alleges anti-gay hiring practices at ExxonMobil
- Boy Scouts poised to vote, still greatly divided on gay youth
- House supporters of KXL received $56m from fossil fuel industry
- 80-year-old becomes oldest to climb Mount Everest
- Before FBI shooting man implicated self, Tsarnaev in triple murder
- Paul McCartney backs Pussy Riot
- UK emergency committee convenes after attack
- Brave scout leader tried to reason with London attackers
- If Alex Pareene were a cable news executive...
- El Salvador court delays ruling on abortion case while woman's life hangs in the balance
- UK officials: Radical Islam behind London attack
- Pa. governor "can't find" any Latinos to work in his administration
- London machete attack could be linked to terrorism
- Conservative group blames military sexual assault on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal
- Lois Lerner, IRS disaster
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11