A former nurse accused of seeking out depressed people online and encouraging two of them to kill themselves lost another attempt to get his case dismissed Friday, after a judge ruled the charges could be heard in a Minnesota court.
William Melchert-Dinkel, 48, of Faribault, has been charged with two counts of aiding suicide for allegedly advising and encouraging an English man and a Canadian woman to take their own lives.
He has pleaded not guilty. His attorney, Terry Watkins, had asked that the case be dismissed, arguing that Minnesota doesn't have jurisdiction because the deaths happened elsewhere.
But Rice County District Court Judge Thomas Neuville disagreed, saying Minnesota law allows someone to be convicted if the offense was committed "in whole or in part within the state." In this case, the online and e-mail messages were allegedly sent from Rice County, he said.
Neuville pointed to another case in Minnesota, in which the court found that the venue for a crime can be based on the location of either an e-mail sender or recipient.
"By analogy, when the charge is advising, assisting or encouraging suicide, through electronic communications, the prosecution of that offense can occur in the state of Minnesota from the county where the communication was sent," Neuville wrote.
Neuville also denied a defense request to have the state Court of Appeals consider a free speech question in the case. The question doesn't meet legal standards for a pre-trial review by the appeals court, he said.
Neuville already ruled that the First Amendment doesn't protect speech that directly encourages and imminently incites suicide.
Neuville wrote in his order filed Friday that the facts of the case must be established before the case goes to the appeals court and this could be done at trial. Melchert-Dinkel can make a First Amendment appeal after a trial if he's convicted, the judge said.
Trial is set for April.
Prosecutors say Melchert-Dinkel was obsessed with suicide and hanging and cruised the Internet for potential victims. When he found them, he posed as a female nurse, feigned compassion and offered step-by-step instructions on how they could kill themselves.
He was charged in April with two counts of aiding suicide in the 2005 hanging death of Mark Drybrough, 32, of Conventry, England, and the 2008 drowning of Nadia Kajouji, 18, of Brampton, Ontario.
In earlier court documents, prosecutors said Melchert-Dinkel admitted participating in online chats with up to 20 people about suicide and entering into fake suicide pacts with about 10 people, five of whom he believed killed themselves.
Melchert-Dinkel allegedly told police he did it for the "thrill of the chase."
Watkins, Melchert-Dinkel's attorney, has argued the victims were predisposed to committing suicide and his client didn't sway them by making statements online.
Watkins said he would've liked to avoid a trial that he feels is unnecessary but "regardless of whether it's a trial or whether it's a post motion, we're still confident that he'll be acquitted."
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