The unusual sentence handed down to a Minnesota man for persuading a Canadian woman and a British man to kill themselves through a series of online chats has done little to appease members of one victim's family.
William Melchert-Dinkel, 48, was ordered on Wednesday to serve 360 days total behind bars, but only 320 of those days will be served consecutively. For the rest of his sentence, he will return to prison for two-day spells every year for a decade on the anniversaries of both of his victims' deaths.
Melchert-Dinkel was convicted in March of aiding suicide in the 2005 hanging death of Mark Drybrough, 32, of Coventry, England, and the March 2008 drowning of Nadia Kajouji, 18, of Brampton, Ont.
Marc Kajouji, Nadia's brother, said the punishment was too light for the crime.
"A guilty verdict isn't justice; punishment is justice," said Kajouji. "A year in a jail with work release doesn't really seem like justice."
Kajouji said Judge Thomas Neuville's attempt to extend the sentence was little comfort.
"That's almost offensive, I don't want him going to jail on March 10th and 11th, the days she went missing, and in July when the Drybrough family found their son hanging by the very means that he said," he said.
Melchert-Dinkel obsessed with suicide, court heard
The court heard that Melchert-Dinkel was obsessed with suicide and trolled internet chat rooms looking for depressed people. Posing as a female nurse, he would feign compassion and then offer step-by-step instructions on how they could kill themselves and, in some cases, pretended to enter into suicide pacts.
Paul Beaumaster, the lawyer in Minnesota's Rice County where the case was heard, called the sentence "well-reasoned" and "appropriate, given the egregious conduct, given the facts of Mr. Melchert-Dinkel’s conduct."
"He was hoping he would let sink into his heart over those two days what he'd heard in the courtroom, and that that would give him some contemplation over the longer probationary period," said Beaumaster.
Sentence 'intriguing': Canadian legal expert
David Paccioco, a University of Ottawa law professor, said the structure of the sentence is unusual even in the United States, and unheard of in Canada.
"The way it works in Canada is that a judge has to pronounce the sentence that's being served, and will not have the authority in a typical case to be able to decide exactly how it's going to be served," said Paccioco.
And while Melchert-Dinkel is under probation for 15 years as part of the sentence, Paccioco said that unless a person is a long-term offender, the longest probation in Canada is three years, and only for jail terms of two years or less.
Paccioco said the sentence was intriguing in that it allows for some opportunity to maintain control over the offender beyond the limits of probation.
But he concedes that for the victims' families, the overall sentence appears light.
"This man set out for his own enjoyment to bring about the death of another individual," said Paccioco. "So 320 days and a couple of birthday visits doesn't add up."
Melchert-Dinkel was ordered to start serving his jail sentence June 1, but his lawyer promised to appeal the convictions, even though a statement expressed remorse for the crimes. If the appeal is filed before June 1, Melchert-Dinkel will remain free as his appeal is pending.