MINNEAPOLIS - A former nurse from Minnesota who sought out depressed people online and was convicted of encouraging two to commit suicide has notified the court that he plans to appeal his conviction, his attorney said Wednesday.
An attorney for William Melchert-Dinkel, 48, of Faribault, filed a notice of appeal Tuesday with the Minnesota Court of Appeals.
Attorney Terry Watkins said he plans to argue that his client was exercising his right to free speech when he discussed suicide online. He said it's possible he will raise other issues on appeal as well.
"Under the circumstances that existed ... his speech was protected," Watkins said.
Evidence presented in Rice County court shows Melchert-Dinkel was obsessed with suicide and addicted to hunting for depressed people in online suicide chat rooms. Prosecutors say that when he found them, he posed as a female nurse, feigned compassion and offered step-by-step instructions on how they could kill themselves.
Melchert-Dinkel was convicted in March of two counts of aiding suicide in the deaths 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 in 2008.
He was sentenced May 4 to 360 days in jail, but has remained free. Since the notice of appeal was filed before a Wednesday deadline, he'll remain free while the appeal is pending, provided he abides by the terms of his probation.
In a statement read by Watkins at sentencing, Melchert-Dinkel said he was sorry for his role in the suicides.
He has admitted that what he did was morally wrong, but claims he did nothing illegal. Prosecutors said Melchert-Dinkel told police he did it for the "thrill of the chase."
Watkins had tried to get the case dismissed on free speech grounds early on, arguing that the allegations were based on Internet postings, emails and online chats, and that his client had no direct participation in the suicides.
He also argued that the victims were predisposed to suicide and that his client's online statements didn't sway them.
But Rice County District Court Judge Thomas Neuville disagreed, saying Melchert-Dinkel's actions were calculated, intentional and fraudulent.
"When you use speech in this manner, it's not protected," Neuville said during the sentencing. "It's criminal."