U.S. man convicted of encouraging suicides

The former Minnesota nurse who targeted depressed people online, including Carleton University student Nadia Kajouji, has been found guilty of aiding two suicides.

The former Minnesota nurse who targeted depressed people online, including Carleton University student Nadia Kajouji, has been found guilty of aiding two suicides.

William Melchert-Dinkel, seen in February, leaves the Rice County Courthouse in Faribault, Minn., with his wife and lawyer. He was found guilty Tuesday of aiding two suicides. (Robb Long/Associated Press)

William Melchert-Dinkel, 48, of Faribault, Minn., was charged in April with two counts of aiding suicide in the 2005 hanging death of Mark Drybrough, 32, of Coventry, England, and the March 2008 drowning of Kajouji, 18, of Brampton, Ont.

Melchert-Dinkel had declined a jury trial and left his fate to a judge in Minnesota. That judge issued his decision Tuesday.

Kajouji's older brother said he's glad to close this chapter, even though it won't bring his sister back.

"It shows that this crime isn't going unpunished and that's the bottom line," Marc Kajouji, 32, said from Brampton. "It could be a deterrent for the future."

Prosecutors say Melchert-Dinkel cruised chat rooms for depressed people, posed as a female nurse, feigned compassion, and entered fake suicide pacts or gave instructions on how they could kill themselves.

They said Melchert-Dinkel acknowledged participating 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.

He entered into a suicide pact with Kajouji and tried to get her to hang herself while he watched via webcam. She instead jumped into the freezing Rideau River.

'I just want out'

According to court documents, an online posting she made days before her death reveals her severe depression.

"I have not attempted suicide in the past because I am terrified of failing — the attention it would garner," she wrote, adding that rehabilitation process would be more than she could bear.

"I just want out," she added.

After his sister's death Marc Kajouji got involved with the suicide prevention organization Your Life Counts. He hopes his sister's story can make people more aware of the issue and maybe save a life.

"Talk to your friends, talk to your family, as hard as it is," Kajouji tells people who find themselves experiencing the same feelings as his sister. "It's important to reach out for help and not just try to battle this on your own because it is very tough."

Rice County attorney Paul Beaumaster said Melchert-Dinkel told police he did it for the "thrill of the chase."

Defence attorney Terry Watkins had argued the victims were predisposed to committing suicide and his client didn't sway them by making statements online.   

During oral arguments in February, Watkins called his client's behaviour "sick" and "abhorrent" but said it wasn't a crime because Melchert-Dinkel didn't directly incite the victims to kill themselves.

Nadia Kajouji of Brampton, Ont., who jumped into a river in 2008 at age 18 after talking online with William Melchert-Dinkel. (Associated Press)

He said Drybrough had been ill for years and went online seeking drugs to overdose, while Kajouji was going through a rough time in her life, had a miscarriage after drinking heavily and was depressed.

Watkins said they were both intelligent people who wouldn't be swayed by his client's online "babbling." 

Judge Thomas Neuville said the defence's argument was irrelevant.

"The predisposition of a suicide victim actually makes the victim more vulnerable to encouragement or advice, and their death more imminent and foreseeable," he wrote in his judgment.

Melchert-Dinkel "never tried to discourage either victim from committing death by suicide, or question the morality or judgment of the act," Neuville wrote. "Rather, the facts indicate repeated and relentless encouragement by [Melchert-Dinkel] to complete the suicide."

Sentencing scheduled for May 

In February, Melchert-Dinkel agreed to accept the facts against him, but maintained his not guilty plea. He waived his right to a jury trial and agreed that the judge would issue a verdict based on the evidence. The arrangement allowed Melchert-Dinkel to keep his right to appeal, and Watkins said Tuesday they will do so.

Neuville scheduled his sentencing for May 4. Minnesota's aiding suicide law carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and a $29,500 Cdn fine.

The law has been rarely used in the state. Data from the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission showed that since 1994, there have been only six people sentenced on that charge: one person was sent to prison for four years, while the rest received either local jail time, probation or both.

Minnesota authorities began investigating in March 2008 when an anti-suicide activist in Britain alerted them that someone in the state was using the internet to manipulate people into killing themselves.

Melchert-Dinkel has been allowed to remain free under certain conditions. Among them, he is not allowed to use the internet without approval.   

With files from The Canadian Press