US nurse jailed for encouraging suicide

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A US nurse who encouraged a Canadian woman and a British man to commit suicide in online chats was sentenced to serve 360 days in jail -- including two days a year for the next decade to mark his victim's deaths.

William Melchert-Dinkel, 48, frequently proposed to people in online chats that they hang themselves in front of a live Web camera so he could watch them die, court records showed.

There is no evidence anyone did so, but police found he had conducted online chats with at least 10 suicidal people, including five who killed themselves.

He was charged specifically for his roles in the suicides of Mark Drybrough, 32, who hanged himself in Coventry, England, in 2005, and Nadia Kajouji, an 18-year-old who threw herself off a bridge in Ottawa in 2008.

Melchert-Dinkel admitted to police he posed as a female nurse on Internet discussion groups about suicide and depression and characterized his actions as "the thrill of the chase."

"I hope I can help you in any way I can," Melchert-Dinkel wrote Kajouji, promising a suicide pact. She wrote back, "We are together in this," and Melchert-Dinkel responded, "yes, I promise."

Kajouiji's mother wept as she read a victim impact statement to the court.

"I would give everything I have, I would give my life in a heartbeat, to spend one more minute with my child," Deborah Chevalier said.

Melchert-Dinkel's lawyer argued that his actions should be protected under the right to free speech and said the victims would have killed themselves even without his encouragement.

Rice County District Judge Thomas Neuville concluded that the former nurse had "intentionally advised and encouraged" his victims to commit suicide and found him guilty under Minnesota's law banning assisted suicide.

Melchert-Dinkel, 48, plans to appeal the sentence handed down Wednesday, which also includes $18,000 in fines and about $30,000 in restitution costs to the families of Drybrough and Kajouji.

He was also placed on probation for 15 years and ordered to have no contact with the victims' families or access to the Internet except in connection with work.

© 2011 AFP

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