The First Amendment does not protect the "morbid, predatory behavior" of a former nurse convicted of using the Internet to urge two people to kill themselves, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday.
The court unanimously upheld William Melchert-Dinkel's conviction for assisting suicide, a felony under Minnesota law. The court scathingly rejected his argument that his speech was protected by the U.S. Constitiution and that the law used to prosecute him was overly broad.
Judge Kevin Ross wrote for the court that the First Amendment "does not lift a finger to protect a charlatan who falsely advertises, or a slanderer who defames, or a perjurer who lies under oath."
A judge found Melchert-Dinkel guilty in March 2011 on two counts of advising and encouraging suicide in the 2005 death of Mark Drybrough, 32, of Coventry, England, and the 2008 death of Nadia Kajouji, 18, of Brampton, Ontario.
A 360-day jail sentence was stayed pending his appeal. Melchert-Dinkel, 49, who lost his nursing license, lives in Faribault, where he works as a truck driver.
His attorney, Terry Watkins, said he plans to petition the state Supreme Court.
"It's still our opinion that the actions by the client, unsavory or perhaps immoral as they may appear, are protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution," Watkins said. "We will be taking that issue forward until there's no place left to go, I suppose."
Melchert-Dinkel, a married father, posed online as a young woman and told the two how to hang themselves and also said he, too, was planning to commit suicide. Drybrough hanged himself at home, and Kajouji died after she jumped into an icy river.
Melchert-Dinkel told investigators he had entered into suicide "pacts" with others, but that he was sure only of Drybough and Kajouji's deaths. He had no intention of killing himself, he told investigators. He admitted he was obsessed with suicide and death and acknowledged what he did was "morally, ethically, legally" wrong.
The Appeals Court noted the state's law against aiding and assisting suicide was adopted in 1886 and compared it to laws prohibiting aiding and abetting a crime. "We are convinced that speech that intentionally advises, encourages, or assists another to commit suicide is an integral part of the criminal conduct of physically assisting suicide," Ross wrote.
The judge added that the state law that makes assisting suicide illegal isn't overbroad, partly because it allows punishment only when someone actually commits suicide.
"The statute penalizes only speech that is integral to the harmful conduct that the state seeks to prevent," Ross wrote.
The Appeals Court's ruling comes two months after a Dakota County grand jury indicted four members of Final Exit, a New Jersey-based right-to-die group, on 17 counts in connection with the death of Doreen Dunn, a 57-year-old Apple Valley woman who committed suicide in 2007 in her home.
Abby Simons 612-673-4921