The prosecution argued on Friday that the Minnesota Supreme Court believed there was sufficient evidence to find William Melchert-Dinkel guilty of assisting suicide.
“The Supreme Court defined ‘assist’ as providing a person with what is needed to commit suicide,” said Assistant Rice County Attorney Terence Swihart. “His intent was to help them so they would not fail in their attempts to commit suicide. Mr. Melchert-Dinkel provided specific information on how to kill yourself. He provided suicide methods. It went beyond moral viewpoint or expressing opinion.”
Attorneys presented oral arguments in Rice County District Court on Friday on whether Melchert-Dinkel, a former Faribault nurse, “assisted” two people he met online in committing suicide.
In March 2011, Dinkel, 52, was convicted in Rice County District Court of encouraging and advising the suicides of 32-year-old Mark Drybrough, of Coventry, England, who hanged himself in 2005; and 18-year-old Nadia Kajouji, of Brampton, Ontario, who jumped into a frozen river and drowned in 2008.
He was sentenced to a year in prison for the crimes.
“Mr. Melchert-Dinkel’s statements to police support his guilt in assisting,” said Swihart. “He turned Kajouji from someone who was terrified to die into someone who killed herself. He provided Nadia Kajouji with what she needed to commit suicide. He operated with a purpose to provide her with assistance. He dissuaded Drybrough from using other methods, such as overdosing, which was his preferred method, because it’s unpredictable, something he knew as a nurse.”
Melchert-Dinkel’s attorney, Terry Watkins, appealed the case all the way to the state Supreme Court, which in March reversed Melchert-Dinkel’s conviction and sent the case back to Rice County, ruling that the state law that banned advising and encouraging suicide violated his First Amendment right to free speech.
The portion of the law that bans direct assistance is still valid under the ruling, and the arguments heard Friday addressed whether Melchert-Dinkel’s actions rose to the level of “assisting” the victims.
Defense attorney Terry Watkins said although his client did encourage the two suicides, he did not have a knowing role in the commission of the acts and there is no evidence to prove that Melchert-Dinkel’s advice led directly to the suicides.
“There was no nexus between what (Kajouji) did and what (Melchert-Dinkel) said,” said Watkins. “Although on its face Drybrough looks like a case involving assisting, it’s not. He had decided on hanging as a second method long before he met Mr. Melchert-Dinkel. Try as we might, the evidence just isn’t there. Advising is not prohibited. Pure speech is not prohibited.”
In June, Rice County Judge Thomas Neuville denied two motions made by Watkins, ruling that Melchert-Dinkel could not withdraw his waiver of a jury trial, made before his conviction, nor refile any other motions. Neuville ruled that the Minnesota Supreme Court did not order a new trial but had instructed only that the judge make findings on whether or not Melchert-Dinkel “assisted” the suicides.
On Friday, the prosecution and defense were each allotted 30 minutes to make their case. With Rice County Attorney Paul Beaumaster, Swihart presented arguments for state. Melchert-Dinkel sat quietly beside Watkins throughout the proceeding, and left the courthouse with no comment.
Rice County County District Court Judge Thomas Neuville took the matter under advisement and will issue a decision within 30 days.