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Former Nurse Convicted of Two Counts of Aiding in Suicides, “Free Speech” Defense Rejected

by | Mar 18, 2011

By Dave Andrusko

William Melchert-Dinkel pictured with his wife Joyce.

A judge in Faribault, Minnesota found William Melchert-Dinkel guilty Tuesday of two counts of aiding in suicides. Rice County District Judge Thomas Neuville rejected the two defenses offered by attorney Terry Watkins: that Melchert-Dinkel’s online statements were protected free speech and that they did not sway Mark Drybrough, 32, and Nadia Kajouji, 18, who were already “predisposed” to suicide.

Sentencing is scheduled for May 4 but Watkins has already said they would appeal the verdict, according to the Associated Press (AP).

As he had in pretrial ruling issued in November, Judge Neuville again rejected Melchert-Dinkel’s argument that his actions amounted to free speech.

“Melchert-Dinkel was not merely expressing ideas about suicide,” Neuville wrote in his 42-page ruling. “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.'”

“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,” according to the AP. “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,” the AP reported.

In February, during oral arguments, Watkins admitted his client’s behavior was “sick” and “abhorrent” but that it wasn’t a crime, according to the AP. Watkins “said Drybrough [who hung himself in 2005] had been ill for years and went online seeking drugs to overdose, while Kajouji [his second victim] 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.’”

“That’s the point,” said Rice County Attorney Paul Beaumaster. “That’s who he looked for. He targeted individuals he knew he could have an influence on. Were they predisposed? Absolutely!” Beaumaster added, “These individuals were fragile people. It was the defendant who was suggesting a long-term solution to a short-term problem.”

Melchert-Dinkel “entered into a suicide pact with Kajouji and tried to get her to hang herself while he watched via webcam,” the CBC reported. “She instead jumped into the freezing Rideau River” in 2008.

Her older brother told CBC, “It shows that this crime isn’t going unpunished and that’s the bottom line.” Marc Kajouji, 32, said, “It could be a deterrent for the future.”

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