Minnesota Supreme Court accepts appeal from man convicted of encouraging two people to kill themselves

By Dave Andrusko

William Melchert-Dinkel

The Minnesota Supreme Court has granted a request to hear an appeal from William Melchert-Dinkel, who was convicted in 2011 of using the Internet to encourage two people to kill themselves. Oral arguments have not yet been scheduled for the ex-nurse whom a Rice County District judge found guilty of advising and encouraging suicide in the 2005 death of Mark Drybrough, 32, and the 2008 death of Nadia Kajouji, 18.

“Melchert-Dinkel, a married father who posed online as a young woman, told the two how to hang themselves and said he, too, was planning to commit suicide,” reports Abby Simons of the [Minneapolis] Star-Tribune. “Melchert- Dinkel told investigators he had entered into suicide ‘pacts’ with others, but that he was sure only of Drybough and Kajouji’s deaths. He never intended to kill himself, he told investigators.”

Melchert-Dinkel was found guilty in March 2011 by Rice County District Judge Thomas Neuville but his sentence was only 360 days which, Melchert-Dinkel appealed.

His convictions were upheld last July by the Minnesota state Court of Appeals which in a blistering opinion ruled that the First Amendment does not protect Melchert-Dinkel’s “morbid, predatory behavior.”

In a 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.” 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.

When Simon wrote her story about the Court of Appeals decision in July, she noted 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.”

Melchert-Dinkel has admitted that he was obsessed with suicide and death and acknowledged what he did was “morally, ethically, legally” wrong.  His 360-day jail sentence was stayed pending his appeal. He now works in Faribault, Minnesota as a truck driver.

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