November 11, 2010

Minnesota Judge Refuses to Dismiss Case against Online Suicide Predator

     Carlton University student Nadia Kajouji, 18, of Brampton, Ontario

A Minnesota judge has rejected a request to dismiss two felony charges against suicide predator William Melchert-Dinkel on Tuesday, preparing the way for the case to go to trial – a decision that a prominent anti-euthanasia activist has welcomed as a sign that "sanity is prevailing."

Melchert-Dinkel, 48, a former Minnesota nurse who admitted to participating in online chats with 15 to 20 people about suicide, and entering into fake suicide pacts with about 10 people, was charged in April with two counts of aiding suicide in the 2005 hanging death of Mark Drybrough, 32, of Conventry, England, and the 2008 drowning of Carlton University student Nadia Kajouji, 18, of Brampton, Ontario.

Kajouji jumped into the freezing Rideau River in early March 2008. It was later revealed that she had been in conversation in an internet chat group with Melchert-Dinkel, who had been posing as a teenage girl. The man had allegedly urged Kajouji to hang herself in front of a webcam so others could watch and promised he would die with her.

In October, Melchert-Dinkel's defense attorney, Terry Watkins, filed written arguments with the court that sought to have the two charges dropped on free speech grounds.

In the document, Watkins argued that the online communications Melchert-Dinkel used when providing suicide advice was a form of constitutionally protected speech, and that the Minnesota statute criminalizing speech assisting suicide is unconstitutionally vague.

In his decision, Judge Neuville said that the protection of free speech does not extend to online speech that encourages activities that are defined as criminal offenses by state statute.

Minnesota State Statute states that, "Whoever intentionally advises, encourages or assists another in taking the other's own life may be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than 15 years or to payment of a fine of not more than $30,000, or both."

"It is unquestioned that the state has a compelling interest to protect and preserve life. Prohibiting persons from advising, encouraging, or aiding others to take their own life furthers the State's interest in protecting and preserving life," Judge Neuville wrote.

"[The statute] does not prevent people from expressing opinions or discussing suicide. Rather, the statute only criminalizes a narrow and precise type of speech, i.e., speech that intentionally and directly advises, encourages, or aids a specific person to end their own life. Thus, speech that directly encourages and imminently incites the act of suicide ... falls outside the protection of the First Amendment."

In response to Watkins' argument that the Minnesota statute criminalizing speech assisting suicide is unconstitutionally vague, Judge Neuville wrote that the statute "is definitive enough to allow an ordinary person to know what conduct it prohibits ... and it is not written in a way that encourages discriminatory enforcement. Therefore, the Court finds that [the statute] is not unconstitutionally vague according to the Constitutions of Minnesota and the United States."

Alex Schadenberg, the chairman of the euthanasia prevention coalition, said that, "William Melchert-Dinkel should be prosecuted and sentenced as if he were sitting with Nadia Kajouji and encouraging or counseling her to commit suicide," and welcomed the judge's ruling as a sign that "sanity is prevailing."

Schadenberg observed that Melchert-Dinkel "is not the only one who is perpetrating these crimes for their own sick gains upon depressed and vulnerable people," and said that the law must deal with internet suicide predators.

"Melchert-Dinkel committed a heinous crime when he took advantage of Kajouji, a depressed first year student at Carlton University, and convinced her that suicide was the best course of action.

"It is the same as pushing a person off a cliff," Schadenberg stated.

Melchert-Dinkel has entered a preliminary plea of not guilty and requested a jury trial. The next court hearing is set for November 19.

Contact: Thaddeus M. Baklinski

Publish Date: November 10, 2010