A former male nurse who posed as a female and preyed upon depressed people online, encouraged them to commit suicide, which resulted in the deaths of two people. Though he was charged in 2011 by a lower court, on Wednesday the Minnesota Supreme Court overturned the conviction in the case of assisted suicide based on freedom of speech.
According to the original trial of the case, William Melchertt-Dinkel, otherwise known as an upstanding neighbor and parent, posed as a female and convinced depressed people online into taking their own lives. The 51-year-old man with a wife and two children allegedly gave people step-by-step instructions on how they could follow through with their suicides. Court documents show that he had chats with 20 different people online and entered into 10 fake suicide pacts. He reportedly wanted to watch them act out their suicide on his web-cam.
He is known to have an obsession with suicidal people. In fact, he sought them out online and counseled them. He was tried in 2011 for helping 32-year-old Mark Drybough from Coventry, England to hang himself in 2005 and assisting 18-year-old Nadia Kajouji from Canada to commit suicide by jumping into a river in 2008. He advised them on the best methods of suicide, including how to tie a not in the rope. Kajourji’s mother sates that her last communication was with Melchertt-Dinkel, showing he influenced her decision to end her life.
The question now is not whether his involvement with the suicides was wrong, but whether it was legal or not. Mark’s mother, Elaine Drybough, said that what he did is unethical, but it is up to the courts to decide if his actions were legal or not.
Though the court found him guilty, the appeal sent the case to the Minnesota Supreme Court on the basis that it infringed upon his freedom of speech. The judge ruled that the language of the assisted suicide law was too “broad,” according to The Associated Press. The court decided that speech alone was not enough to convict him of assisted suicide.
Melchertt-Dinkel’s lawyer, Terry Watkins, said that they did not argue that the events took place, but that his client did not actually provide assisted suicide and that he merely discussed it, which is his right under the First Amendment.
He was originally given a 360-day sentence, which has been on hold while awaiting the decision by the higher court. The supreme court overturned the ruling of the lower court because of the wording of the assisted suicide law, which includes the words “advising” and “encouraging” and the judge ruled that the law goes against the constitution’s First Amendment of free speech.
It is now up to the lower level court, specifically the county prosecutor, as to whether he should be charged on other counts. The Minnesota Supreme Court ruling to overturn the assisted suicide case will likely set precedence for similar case in the future though. Others who prey on depressed or suicidal people on the Internet and encourage them to commit suicide may also be protected by the First Amendment.
By Tracy Rose