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Minn. man who helped coax 2 to suicide gets jail

William Melchert-Dinkel, center, leaves the Rice County Courthouse in Faribault, Minn., with his attorney Terry Watkins, right, and wife, Joyce Melchert-Dinkel, after waiving his right to a jury trial. Melchert-Dinkel, 48, of Faribault, was found guilty Tuesday, March 15, 2023 of aiding the suicides of 18-year-old Kajouji of Brampton, Ontario, who jumped into a river in 2008, and 32-year-old Mark Drybrough of Coventry, England, who hung himself in 2005. Photo AP/Robb Long, File
A former nurse who helped persuade two people he met online to kill themselves was sentenced Wednesday to nearly a year in jail.
Thursday, May 05, 2023
By: Amy Forliti, Associated Press
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FARIBAULT, Minn. – A former nurse who helped persuade two people he met online to kill themselves was sentenced Wednesday to nearly a year in jail, a punishment tailored to force him to return to jail each year for a decade to spend the anniversaries of his victims' deaths behind bars.

William Melchert-Dinkel was convicted of two counts of aiding suicide under a rarely used Minnesota law. Prosecutors said he posed online as a suicidal nurse and encouraged a Canadian woman and a British man to commit suicide.

Judge Thomas Neuville's sentence was less than the maximum 15 years Melchert-Dinkel could have gotten for each count. Neuville officially sentenced Melchert-Dinkel to six-and-a-half years in prison — but stayed execution of that sentence, meaning Melchert-Dinkel will go to prison only if he violates terms of his probation, which includes the jail time.

He'll be on probation for 15 years.

Neuville compared Melchert-Dinkel's conduct to stalking, describing it as calculated, intentional, and fraudulent. But he also said that while Melchert-Dinkel's conduct was directly related to the deaths, he wasn't the sole reason the victims took their lives.

Melchert-Dinkel declined a jury trial, leaving Neuville to decide whether he was guilty. He was convicted in the death 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.

Melchert-Dinkel wiped tears from his eyes as the judge sentenced him. In a statement read by his attorney, Terry Watkins, he apologized and said he felt shame and remorse.

He also wiped his eyes as Nadia's parents spoke.

"When Nadia died, the best parts of me died with her," her mother, Deborah Chevalier, said in court. "What William Melchert-Dinkel did was vile, offensive and most importantly, illegal.

He knowingly chose to mastermind the deaths of some and destroy the lives of many."

She told the judge that even if sentenced to jail, she did not think Melchert-Dinkel would feel the sorrow and misery he caused others.

"William Melchert-Dinkel is a predator. William Melchert-Dinkel is a killer. He is in fact a serial killer, and William Melchert-Dinkel deserves to be punished to the full extent of the law," she told the court.

He was ordered to start serving his jail sentence June 1. But his attorney had promised to appeal the convictions on free-speech grounds. If that appeal is filed before June 1, Melchert-Dinkel would remain free as his appeal is pending.

The judge structured the sentence so that Melchert-Dinkel would serve an initial 320 days, then be freed. Over the next 10 years, he would have serve two-day spells in jail on the anniversaries of his victims' deaths.

After the hearing, Chevalier said: "I'm her mother. Obviously I'm disappointed that it wasn't more. I would've liked to see a larger sentence." She praised Minnesota authorities for pushing the case forward.

Prosecutors say Melchert-Dinkel was obsessed with hanging and suicide, and addicted to seeking out potential victims online. They say he posed as a suicidal female nurse to win his victims' trust, then entered false suicide pacts and offered detailed instructions on how people could take their own lives.

According to court documents, Melchert-Dinkel, a former nurse from the southern Minnesota town of Faribault, told police he did it for the "thrill of the chase." He 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.

Kajouji's father, Mohamed Kajouji, was crying as he spoke to the court by phone. He said that Melchert-Dinkel is a murderer and a monster.

"What he did, it's inhuman," Mohamed Kajouji said. "She was very intelligent. She just needed help."

Watkins, Melchert-Dinkel's attorney, said his client suffers from Asperger's syndrome, depression and obsessive compulsive disorders. Watkins said his client doesn't know why he initially started going into suicide chat rooms, but became "strangely addicted to going back."

He described Melchert-Dinkel as a man who was trying to be a good father, husband, son and good Christian. He said his client knew what he was doing was immoral, but couldn't stop.

He didn't know he had Asperger's and other issues until after his actions on the Internet, Watkins said.

"He is shamed by it," Watkins said. "No one regrets his actions more than Mr. Melchert-Dinkel does."

Rice County Attorney Paul Beaumaster said that while the victims may have been depressed, Melchert-Dinkel's advice helped them finish their lives. He said after the hearing that the sentence was the minimum of what he had hoped for, because the case wasn't typical.

"In this case we have someone who, for sport, for entertainment, for the thrill of chase, sought out people who were depressed, who were suicidal," Beaumaster said in court.

"That makes it worse in my mind."

Beaumaster said it's difficult to lose a loved one, particularly "knowing one of the last persons they spoke to was a fraud."

The Drybrough family declined to make a statement to the court and did not attend the hearing.

 

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