New trial ordered for Minnesota man who aided Ottawa student’s suicide

voyeur suicide abettment

Nadia Kajouji was 18 when she was coaxed by an American man, William Melchert-Dinkel, to commit suicide. Kajouji drowned in the Rideau River in March 2008.

BLAIR CRAWFORD
POSTMEDIA NEWS

OTTAWA — The brother of Nadia Kajouji says he’s disappointed the man who helped convince the first-year Carleton University student to kill herself in 2008 has had his conviction overturned.

The Minnesota Supreme Court on Wednesday threw out the conviction of William Melchert-Dinkel, 51, for encouraging Kajouji and a second victim in Britain to commit suicide. In a series of online chats, Melchert-Dinkel, a former nurse from Faribault, Minn., pretended to be a young and compassionate female emergency room nurse who would help them end their suffering. In fact, Melchert-Dinkel was a voyeur who tried to convince his victims to let him watch on a webcam as they hanged themselves, for the “thrill of the chase.”

The court overturned Melchert-Dinkel’s 2011 conviction, saying the state law prohibiting “encouraging” suicide was unconstitutional, but ruling he could still be tried for “assisting” in the suicides.

The case now heads back to a lower court for a new trial.

“I’m disappointed in the court, but I’m pleased that Minnesota has been pursuing it, because we didn’t at home, did we?” Marc Kajouji said.

“I think the law has been put there to protect life, by any means necessary. I think it’s semantics at this point where you have to determine the intentions of somebody.”

Nadia Kajouji, 18, had several online chats with Melchert-Dinkel in early March 2008, asking for advice on how to make her suicide look like an accident. On March 9, she told him she planned to jump off a bridge. Melchert-Dinkel tried to convince her to hang herself. Kajouji disappeared that night. Her body was found in the Rideau River three weeks later.

The British victim, 32-year-old Mark Drybrough, hanged himself in July 2005 after Melchert-Dinkel, who feigned being suicidal himself, advised him online about ways to do it. In his online chats, Drybrough wrote: “I keep holding on to the hope that things might change” and said he was too scared to kill himself. Duped by the fake suicide pact, Drybrough wrote Melchert-Dinkel: “I admire your courage. I wish I had it.” Drybrough killed himself four days later.

Melchert-Dinkel told police he had had similar online conversations with about 20 other people and entered into fake suicide pacts with 10 of them, five of whom he believed eventually killed themselves.

In his appeal, Melchert-Dinkel’s lawyer, Terry Watkins, argued his client was only offering support to the victims and that the conversations were protected by U.S. free speech laws. The free speech argument was rejected in an appeal court ruling in 2012.

Since Nadia’s death, Marc Kajouji has become an ambassador for yourlifecounts.org, a charitable organization that provides online resources for suicide prevention. The organization has lobbied Parliament for a national suicide prevention strategy and advocates on behalf of suicide survivors.

The irony of Nadia finding someone online who helped persuade her to take her life isn’t lost on him.

“If she stumbled on yourlifecounts.com, she would be here today,” he said. “I believe that.”

As with the first trial, the Kajouji family won’t attend Melchert-Dinkel’s retrial, he said.

“Speaking to him isn’t going to save anybody, but speaking to members of Parliament and working with yourlifecounts.com will. My sister’s gone, but maybe there will be other stories that we can avoid in the future.

“That’s the most important thing to do, steadying people so that they won’t take their lives.”

bcrawford@ottawacitizen.com

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