MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - A Minnesota man charged with two counts of aiding suicide was committing a crime - not playing a game - when he "hunted" vulnerable people on the Internet and encouraged two of them to kill themselves, prosecutors claim.
William Melchert-Dinkel used alter egos to stalk victims and get them to commit suicide for the "thrill of the chase," prosecutors said in written arguments filed in advance of a court hearing Thursday in front of a judge who will decide whether the former nurse's actions were criminal.
"Advising and encouraging others in suicide is not an online game for Mr. Melchert-Dinkel's amusement - it is a crime," Rice County Attorney Paul Beaumaster wrote. He added that Melchert-Dinkel admitted his "conversations moved into the realm of sick and perverse advice."
Melchert-Dinkel has pleaded not guilty to 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. Melchert-Dinkel's fate is now in the hands of Rice County District Court Judge Thomas Neuville after the 48-year-old southern Minnesota man waived his right to a jury trial and said he would not dispute the evidence against him, only whether what he did was a crime.
Neuville was set hear arguments from both sides Thursday, then has up to 20 days to decide whether Melchert-Dinkel is guilty.
Defense attorney Terry Watkins has not filed written arguments and did not return phone messages Wednesday. He has said previously that his client's online activities were protected speech, that the victims were predisposed to suicide and that Melchert-Dinkel's comments were not a factor. Watkins has also said his client's actions do not constitute a crime.
Prosecutors say Melchert-Dinkel, of Fairbault, was obsessed with suicide and hanging and sought out potential victims on the Internet. When he found them, prosecutors say, he posed in chat rooms and in e-mails as a woman, using such names as "Li dao" or "Cami," played the role of a compassionate friend, and offered step-by-step instructions on how they could take their lives.
Prosecutors say 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.
In his arguments, Beaumaster wrote that the evidence shows "beyond a reasonable doubt" that Melchert-Dinkel intentionally encouraged both victims to kill themselves, and that he aided in Drybrough's suicide.
According to court documents, Drybrough posted a message in a chat room, asking if anyone had instructions on how to hang oneself without access to something high. He began receiving e-mails from "Li dao" containing detailed instructions. Beaumaster wrote that Drybrough died by the hanging methods described by "Li dao."
In the Canada case, evidence shows Kajouji went online March 1, 2008, saying she wanted to commit suicide but was afraid of failing. Five days later, she participated in online chats with "Cami" - who prosecutors say was actually Melchert-Dinkel, claiming to be a 31-year-old emergency room nurse. During the chats, Kajouji said she planned to jump into a river the following Sunday, and Cami said if that didn't work, they would hang themselves together that Monday.
"We are together in this," Kajouji wrote.
"Yes I promise, Monday will be my day," Cami replied.
Police in Ottawa say Kajouji disappeared March 9, 2008. Her body was found six weeks later.
Beaumaster wrote that Melchert-Dinkel had no intention of taking his own life. He also wrote there is no evidence showing he tried to talk anyone out of suicide and that his alter egos became so infamous online that concerned people warned others that he was stalking suicidal individuals.
Kajouji's mother, Deborah Chevalier, was unable to make the trip from Canada for Thursday's arguments, but told the AP by e-mail that she is confident Melchert-Dinkel will be found guilty.
"However, a guilty verdict is not justice," she wrote. "I've come to realize that, even with a guilty verdict, any punishment he receives will be nothing more than an insult and a slap in the fact to each of his victims."