Tuesday, October 3, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Conviction Affirmed in |Assisted Suicide Case

(CN) - A Minnesota man was correctly convicted of helping a British man kill himself through "Internet correspondence," the state appeals court ruled.

However, his conviction for attempting to help a Canadian woman kill herself was overturned.

William Melchert-Dinkel was charged in 2010 with two counts of aiding the suicides of Nadia Kajouji, of Canada, and Mark Drybrough, of England.

The district court convicted Melchert-Dinkel, finding that he "intentionally advised and encouraged" the two to kill themselves while posing as a female nurse who was also suicidal.

In 2005, Melchert-Dinkel used the name Li Dao on a suicide website. Responding to Drybrough's question about hanging, he discussed suspending a noose over the door and attaching it to the doorknob on the other side.

"It is very effective," Melchert-Dinkel wrote. "I have trialed (sic) it five times now with very good results so I am using it for certain when I go."

He also advised Drybrough that overdosing is "very unpredictable" and that suspension hanging is "by far the best and surest method."

Drybrough ended up hanging himself from a rope suspended from a ladder.

In the case of Kajouji, Melchert-Dinkel used the name "Cami." He recommended hanging instead of Kajouji's idea of jumping off a bridge and drowning in a partially frozen canal.

Kajouji did not take Melchert-Dinkel's advice. She emailed a friend and said she was going skating. Her body was found six weeks later in the canal, still wearing ice skates.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed the convictions, but the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that the statute was unconstitutional. The court struck "advise" and "encourage" from the stature but kept the word "assist."

The case returned to the district court, which rejected Melchert-Dinkel's claims of double jeopardy before convicting him of assisting Drybrough's 2005 suicide and attempting to assist Kajouji's suicide in 2008.

On appeal, Melchert-Dinkel reasserted his double jeopardy claim and claimed that his Sixth Amendment rights were violated because the complaint did not show that he was charged with assisting suicide.

While Judge John Smith noted that the count regarding Kajouji's suicide did not mention assisting, Melchert-Dinkel did have notice of that accusation.

"Melchert-Dinkel admitted to police that he 'most likely' assisted someone's suicide," Smith wrote. "And in their original arguments to the district court, both parties used all three terms from the statute."

Smith also ruled that Melchert-Dinkel was not a victim of double jeopardy.

"Because the district court simply made no findings regarding whether Melchert-Dinkel assisted the suicides, it did not determine the merits of the assisting-suicide charges and did not acquit Melchert-Dinkel of the charges," he wrote.

The judge also refuted Melchert-Dinkel's assertion that he should have been allowed to withdraw his waiver of his right to a jury trial.

"Because the district court determined it had already held Melchert-Dinkel's trial and was merely making additional findings on remand regarding Melchert-Dinkel's assistance of the suicides, Melchert-Dinkel was not entitled to withdraw his waiver," he wrote.

In addition, Smith countered Melchert-Dinkel's argument that his convictions were against the weight of the evidence.

"The timing of Drybrough's suicide, four days after he last communicated with Melchert-Dinkel and less than one month after the first communication, supports the district court's finding of a 'direct, causal relationship,'" he wrote.

As for Kajouji's death, the appeals court overturned Melchert-Dinkel's conviction, ruling that he did not actually help Kajouji kill herself.

"Melchert-Dinkel merely encouraged Kajouji to commit suicide by hanging, advised her about aspects of her plan, and provided general comfort or support for her decision to commit suicide," Smith wrote.

Judge Michael Kirk wrote a partially dissenting opinion.

"When the Minnesota Supreme Court reversed appellant's conviction and remanded for further proceedings, he was entitled to a new trial, not a reconsideration of his stipulated-facts trial," Kirk wrote.

Categories / Uncategorized

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.