FARIBAULT, Minn. » Freedom of speech is no defense for a former nurse who engaged in "lethal advocacy" when he encouraged an English man and Canadian woman to kill themselves after searching for depressed people over the Internet, a Minnesota judge said in delivering a guilty verdict against the man.
The judge found William Melchert-Dinkel, 48, guilty Tuesday of two counts of aiding the suicides of Mark Drybrough, 32, of Coventry, England, who hanged himself in 2005, and Nadia Kajouji, 18, of Brampton, Ontario, who jumped into a frozen river in 2008. Melchert-Dinkel declined a jury trial and left his fate to Rice County District Judge Thomas Neuville.
Melchert-Dinkel’s attorney, Terry Watkins, said the defense was disappointed with the verdict and planned to appeal. Watkins said appellate courts will have to answer whether Melchert-Dinkel’s actions rose to the level of a crime or were protected speech in the context in which they occurred, given the defense view that the victims were already predisposed to suicide and his online statements didn’t sway them.
In his ruling, Neuville stuck mostly to a dispassionate recitation of the facts in the case. The judge again rejected the defendant’s argument that his actions amounted to free speech, affirming a pretrial ruling he issued in November. He also reaffirmed his rejection of the defense claim that Melchert-Dinkel’s online statements didn’t sway the victims.
"Melchert-Dinkel was not merely expressing ideas about suicide 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,"’ Neuville wrote.