William Francis Melchert-Dinkel
|William Francis Melchert-Dinkel|
|Born||July 20, 1962|
|Occupation||Former nurse; currently a truck driver|
|Home town||Faribault, Minnesota|
|Criminal charge||Assisting suicide (2 counts)|
|Criminal penalty||178 days imprisonment,
10 years probation
|Conviction(s)||Assisting suicide, attempted assisting suicide|
William Francis Melchert-Dinkel (born July 20, 1962) is an American former licensed practical nurse (LPN). In 2011, he was found guilty of encouraging people to commit suicide. He allegedly told those contemplating suicide what methods worked best, that it was a decent choice to commit suicide, that they would be better off in heaven, and/or falsely entered into suicide pacts with them. He is a married father of two.
Melchert-Dinkel was originally convicted of two counts of assisting suicide for encouraging the July 27, 2005 suicide of 36-year-old Mark Drybrough, a British IT technician, and the April 20, 2008 suicide of 20-year-old Nadia Kajouji, a student at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada via Internet chat rooms. Those convictions were later overturned by the Minnesota Supreme Court when it found that part of the state law used to convict him was unconstitutional. On remand, Melchert-Dinkel was convicted on one count of assisting suicide, and one count of attempted assisting suicide.
William Francis Melchert-Dinkel allegedly met his victims in internet suicide chat rooms, where he posed as a depressed woman in her 20's using aliases such as "Cami D" or "falcongirl". According to his affidavit, Melchert-Dinkel spoke to dozens of people over the course of four or five years, encouraging them to kill themselves (typically by hanging). He said he was successful in at least five instances.
Nadia Kajouji; Canada
Melchert-Dinkel was convicted in relation to the suicide of 18-year-old Nadia Kajouji, who became depressed after leaving home to begin university. A resident at Ottawa's Carleton University, she jumped from a bridge and was found drowned in the Rideau River downstream from the Ottawa school in April 2008. Kajouji had conversed online with someone posing as a young woman–now known to be Melchert-Dinkel–who suggested that Kajouji hang herself, gave her detailed instructions how to do it, and told her to capture her final moments with a webcam so (s)he and others could watch, as part of a joint suicide pact. St. Paul, Minnesota police said they confirmed that she "had been conversing with Melchert-Dinkel online just prior to her disappearance", including on the day of her disappearance.
Ottawa police decided not to charge Melchert-Dinkel under the Canadian assisted suicide law.
Mark Drybrough; England
He was also convicted in relation to the suicide of Mark Drybrough, a 32-year-old IT technician who in the wake of suffering a nervous breakdown and being depressed hanged himself in his Coventry, England home in July 2005, after allegedly chatting for two months with someone allegedly using the aliases Falcongirl and Li Dao. Melchert-Dinkel was charged with counseling Drybrough on how to kill himself.
In November 2006, Celia Blay, a retired British schoolteacher living in Maiden Bradley, Wiltshire, received word from a teenaged friend in South America that she had entered a suicide pact with a young nurse. Blay investigated Melchert-Dinkel's "Li Dao" identity and discovered that he had previously agreed to earlier suicide pacts. She convinced the girl to break the pact four hours before the planned suicide, saving her life. Throughout the following year, Blay posted warnings about "Li Dao" on other chat websites. She also discovered Melchert-Dinkel's "Falcongirl" and "Cami D" identities, and talked to users who entered other pacts in which he arranged to have attempted victims die in front of their webcams. After months of collecting evidence about the then-unidentified Melchert-Dinkel's activities, Blay approached the local police. They opted not to investigate.
In January 2008—around the time Melchert-Dinkel was corresponding with Kajouji—Blay and a friend, Kat Lowe, set up a sting to catch "Cami D" in the act of attempting a suicide pact. It was during this correspondence that Melchert-Dinkel described seeing a man from Birmingham, thought to be Drybrough, hang himself on his webcam. Lowe and Blay gained Melchert-Dinkel's trust and found information that traced him back to his IP address and residence in Saint Paul, Minnesota. In a stroke of luck, they also saw Melchert-Dinkel through a webcam feed, posing as "Cami D". Blay submitted an affidavit on the matter to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, but received no response. However, the Saint Paul Police Department and the Minnesota Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force agreed to take the case.
Melchert-Dinkel was convicted on March 15, 2011, in a criminal complaint filed in Rice County, Minnesota. He was charged with advising, encouraging, or assisting Kajouji and Drybrough in taking their own lives using internet correspondence. He was ordered to not use the Internet while the case was underway.
While counseling to commit suicide is illegal, laws in North America and Britain had not previously been successfully used to prosecute anyone for promoting suicide over the internet. He was found guilty of aiding a suicide under Minnesota law, which provides penalties for anyone who “intentionally advises, encourages, or assists another in taking the other’s own life", punishment can be up to 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $30,000. He was sentenced on May 4, 2011, to 360 days in jail.
On July 27, 2012, the Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction. The Minnesota Supreme Court subsequently agreed to review the case. On March 19, 2014, the supreme court reversed the conviction and remanded. The high court held that the Minnesota statute under which Melchert-Dinkel had been convicted was unconstitutional in part. The court held that merely advising or encouraging suicide was speech protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and that those prohibitions were unconstitutional. It went on to hold, however, that speech which actually assisted a suicide was not protected.
Since the trial court made factual findings only with respect to encouraging and advising, the supreme court reversed the conviction. It remanded, the case, however, for the lower court to determine whether Melchert-Dinkel had actually assisted the suicides within the meaning of the statute.
Retrial and second conviction
On October 15, 2014, Rice County District Judge Thomas Neuville sentenced William Melchert-Dinkel to 3 years in prison, but suspended that sentence if Melchert-Dinkel serves 360 days in jail and abides by the terms of his probation for 10 years after his release. A month prior to the sentencing, Judge Neuville found that Melchert-Dinkel "intentionally advised and encouraged" Drybrough and Kajouji to commit suicide, after the case had been remanded by the Minnesota Supreme Court.
Melchert-Dinkel was convicted of assisting the suicide of Mark Drybough and attempting to assist the suicide of Nadia Kajouji, because she ultimately took her own life by jumping off a bridge into a frozen river, rather than by hanging, as Melchert-Dinkel had allegedly suggested to her online. During his second sentencing hearing, Melchert-Dinkel stated, "I am sorry... for my actions and what I have done. I have repented."
William Melchert-Dinkel reported to jail on October 24, 2014. Even after his release from prison in February 2015, his lawyer has continued to appeal the conviction.
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