A Minnesota judge on Wednesday sentenced a former nurse to nearly a year's worth of jail time — spread out over the next decade — for helping to persuade two people, including a Brampton, Ont., woman, to kill themselves.
William Melchert-Dinkel, 48, was ordered to serve 360 days total behind bars, but only 320 of those days will be served consecutively. For the remainder of the sentence, he will be forced to return to prison for two-day spells every year for a decade on the anniversaries of both of his victims' deaths.
Melchert-Dinkel sobbed and wiped his eyes as Judge Thomas Neuville handed down the unusual sentence.
He 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.
Carleton student among victims
Kajouji, a student at Ottawa's Carleton University, threw herself into Ottawa's Rideau River after struggling with escalating mental health problems during the months leading up to her death.
Melchert-Dinkel was ordered to start serving his jail sentence June 1, but his attorney 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.
G. Paul Beaumaster, Rice County attorney, released a statement Wednesday calling the sentence "well reasoned" and "appropriate, given the egregious conduct, given the facts of Mr. Melchert-Dinkel’s conduct."
"I hope this case stands as a warning to other predators on the internet who advise, aides or encourages suicide that they will be held accountable," Beaumaster said in the statement.
Online 'suicide pacts'
Melchert-Dinkel must still complete 80 hours of community service over a 10-year period, and is prohibited from being employed as a health-care professional. He was also ordered to pay fines of $9,000 for each count.
Under Minnesota state law, he faced a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and a $30,000 fine for each count.
While Neuville said Melchert-Dinkel's conduct was calculated, fraudulent and directly related to the victims' deaths, he ruled that the former nurse's conduct was not the sole reason his victims died.
Prosecutors said Melchert-Dinkel was obsessed with suicide and sought out depressed people in internet chat rooms to form fake "suicide pacts."
When he found them, he posed as a female nurse, feigned compassion and offered step-by-step instructions on how they could kill themselves. He told police he encouraged at least five people to commit suicide.