Judge rejects free-speech claim in aided suicide case involving Carleton student
MINNEAPOLIS -- A judge rejected a request Tuesday to dismiss charges against a former nurse accused of aiding in the suicides of a Canadian woman and an English man he met in online chat rooms.
The judge ruled the case against the former nurse -- who allegedly sought out depressed people online and encouraged them to kill themselves -- won't be dismissed on free speech grounds.
William Melchert-Dinkel, 48, was charged with two counts of aiding suicide in the 2008 drowning of Nadia Kajouji, 18, of Brampton, Ont., and in the 2005 hanging death of Mark Drybrough, 32, of Coventry, England.
His lawyer had asked that the case be dismissed, saying Melchert-Dinkel's conversations involved protected speech.
Rice County District Judge Thomas Neuville disagreed in a 21-page ruling, saying speech that aids the suicide of another is not protected by the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment, which protects free speech among other rights.
The judge also said Minnesota law makes it a crime to participate in speech that intentionally advises, encourages, or aids another in taking his or her own life. And, the judge wrote, the courts have ruled that speech that constitutes aiding and abetting criminal conduct is not protected.
"Thus, speech that directly encourages and imminently incites the act of suicide ... falls outside the protection of the First Amendment," Neuville wrote.
Rice County Attorney Paul Beaumaster argued Melchert-Dinkel was obsessed with suicide and hanging and cruised the Internet for potential victims. When he found them, he posed as a female nurse, feigned compassion and offered step-by-step instructions on how they could kill themselves. Melchert-Dinkel also entered phoney suicide pacts, Beaumaster said.
Beaumaster said in earlier court documents that Melchert-Dinkel admitted participating in online chats with at least 15 to 20 people about suicide and entering into fake suicide pacts with about 10 people, five of whom Melchert-Dinkel believed killed themselves.
The prosecutor said Tuesday that he is pleased with the judge's ruling and is preparing for trial. The next court hearing is set for Nov. 19. A plea is expected to be formally entered then.
Melchert-Dinkel's lawyer, Terry Watkins, said he hadn't read the judge's ruling and had no immediate comment. He said nothing has changed, and he is anticipating his client will plead not guilty.
Watkins also had asked that the case be dismissed because of a lack of probable cause and because the state's aiding suicide law is too vague. Neuville denied those requests as well.