Conviction for assisting suicides upheld by Minnesota Court of Appeals

By Dave Andrusko

William Melchert-Dinkel

In a blistering opinion, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that the First Amendment does not protect the “morbid, predatory behavior” of an ex-nurse convicted of using the Internet to urge two people to kill themselves.

William Melchert-Dinkel was found guilty in March 2011 by Rice County District Judge Thomas Neuville on two counts of advising and encouraging suicide in the 2005 death of Mark Drybrough, 32, of Coventry, England, and the 2008 death of Nadia Kajouji, 18, of Brampton, Ontario. His sentence was only 360 days which, Melchert-Dinkel, a married father, appealed.

In an unanimous opinion, written by Judge Kevin Ross, the Court of Appeals upheld Melchert-Dinkel’s conviction for assisting suicide, which is a felony under Minnesota law.

“Put in its true light, Melchert-Dinkel hunted emotionally vulnerable persons — pitiable victims of obvious mental illness who stood precariously on the edge of death,” Judge Ross wrote. “Then, veiled behind a fictitious identity and deceitful words of supposed care and concern and empathy and warmth, he pushed.”

The First Amendment, Ross said, “does not lift a finger to protect a charlatan who falsely advertises, or a slanderer who defames, or a perjurer who lies under oath.”

Melchert-Dinkel “posed online as a young woman and convinced the two that he also was planning to commit suicide and told each how to hang themselves,” explained Abby Simon of the [Minneapolis] Star Tribune. “Drybrough hanged himself at home, and Kajouji died after she jumped into an icy river.”

Minnesota’s law against aiding and assisting suicide was adopted in 1886, and the Court of Appeals compared it to laws that prohibit aiding and abetting a crime. Just because he used online communication to assist in the suicides didn’t mean Melchert-Dinkel’s speech was protected.

“We are convinced that speech that intentionally advises, encourages, or assists another to commit suicide is an integral part of the criminal conduct of physically assisting suicide,” Ross wrote. “Separately, it is clear that such speech is also an integral part of another person’s suicide itself and that suicide, despite no longer being illegal in Minnesota, remains harmful conduct that the state opposes as a matter of public policy.”

Ross addressed the issue of whether the law was overbroad. He said it wasn’t because it’s narrowly written and only allows punishment when someone actually commits suicide.

“By punishing a person for engaging in speech that intends to influence another to commit suicide only when the other person actually commits suicide, the statute penalizes only speech that is integral to the harmful conduct that the state seeks to prevent.” Ross wrote.

According to the Star-Tribune’s Simon, “Melchert-Dinkel told investigators he had entered into suicide ‘pacts’ with others, but that he was sure only of Drybrough and Kajouji’s deaths. He had no intention of killing himself, he told investigators. He admitted he was obsessed with suicide and death and acknowledged what he did was ‘morally, ethically, legally’ wrong.”

Simon concluded her story by noting that the ruling came “two months after a Dakota County grand jury indicted four members of Final Exit, a New Jersey-based right-to-die group, on 17 counts in connection with the death of Doreen Dunn, a 57-year-old Apple Valley woman who committed suicide in 2007 in her home.”

(For further background, go to www.nationalrighttolifenews.org/news/2011/08/former-nurse-given-mild-sentence-for-aiding-in-two-suicides-2.)

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