Ex-nurse guilty of aiding suicides
A former nurse has been found guilty of helping two people kill themselves after giving them advice and encouragement online.
A judge in Minnesota convicted William Melchert-Dinkel, 48, of aiding the suicides of a British man and a Canadian woman, after prosecutors said he hunted out his victims on the internet for "the thrill of the chase".
Mark Drybrough, 32, from Coventry, hanged himself in 2005, and Nadia Kajouji, 18, from Ontario, jumped into a frozen river in 2008.
Melchert-Dinkel, of Minnesota, was obsessed with suicide and hanging, and sought out potential victims on the internet, the court was told. He then posed as a female nurse, feigned compassion and offered step-by-step instructions on how they could kill themselves, prosecutors said.
The court heard he told police he did it "for the thrill of the chase".
Prosecutors said he acknowledged having taken part in online chats about suicide with up to 20 people and entering into fake suicide pacts with about 10 people, five of whom he believed killed themselves.
Scheduling the sentencing for May 4, Rice County District Judge Thomas Neuville rejected Melchert-Dinkel's claim that his actions amounted to free speech.
The judge said Melchert-Dinkel was not merely advocating ideas about suicide, but engaging in "lethal advocacy", and that predisposition of the victims to commit suicide was not a valid defence.
During the trial, defence lawyer Terry Watkins called his client's behaviour "sick" and "abhorrent" but said it was not a crime because Melchert-Dinkel did not directly incite the victims to kill themselves.
Minnesota's aiding suicide law carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and a 30,000 dollar (£18,700) fine, but the law has been rarely used. Melchert-Dinkel is free under certain conditions, including not being able to use the internet without approval.