Appeals court affirms one conviction, overturns another in assisting suicide cases

By Dave Andrusko

William Melchert-Dinkel

William Melchert-Dinkel

The case of William Melchert-Dinkel, a former nurse convicted of assisted suicide, took still another twist this week when The Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed his conviction “for assisting the suicide of a British man, but reversed his conviction for attempting to assist a Canadian woman’s suicide,” the Associated Press’ Steve Karnowski reported.

“The appeals court said Melchert-Dinkel gave [Mark] Drybrough detailed instructions on how to hang himself,” according to Karnowski. “But it said he didn’t give specific instructions to [Nadia] Kajouji when he recommended that she hang herself. She jumped from a bridge into a frozen river in Ottawa, where she was going to college” in 2008.

The AP reported that given Melchert-Dinkel’s conviction in the more serious count of assisting Drybrough’s suicide, Rice County Attorney John Fossum said he doesn’t plan to challenge the reversal of Melchert-Dinkel’s conviction for attempting to assist in Kajouji’s death. But Fossum added he was still evaluating the decision.

As NRL News Today and Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL) have reported, Melchert-Dinkel admitted to posing as a depressed female nurse in online chat rooms using several names. He claimed that no treatment had helped ease his suffering and entered into suicide pacts with his victims. He urged each of them to use a webcam as they committed suicide, as he would, so that they would not be alone as they died. Melchert-Dinkel was not suicidal but secretly wanted to watch others kill themselves.

Melchert-Dinkel encouraged his victims to hang themselves and he gave them details about how to do so. He boasted online about watching the death of Drybrough. Melchert-Dinkel admitted he entered into about 10 suicide pacts and believed five killed themselves.

Melchert-Dinkel was convicted in 2011 under Minnesota Statutes section 609.215, subdivision 1, which provides criminal penalties for anyone who “advises, encourages or assists” suicide. MCCL was instrumental in the passage of this protective law in 1992.

The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled earlier this year in State v. Melchert-Dinkel that “advising” or “encouraging” suicide is protected speech under the First Amendment.

“Whatever their reasons, people who attempt to assist others in killing themselves need to be prevented from doing so,” said MCCL Executive Director Scott Fischbach said. “Assisted suicide is a violent, inhuman act against an individual in desperate need of help. Vulnerable people need protections, including the medical and mental health care they need to live.”

After his 2014 conviction Melchert-Dinkel served nearly six months in jail and remains on 10 years of probation.

Terry Watkins, Melchert-Dinkel’s attorney, said they plan another appeal to the state Supreme Court.