FARIBAULT, Minn. (AP) - A former nurse who helped persuade two people he met online to kill themselves was sentenced Wednesday to nearly a year in jail, a punishment tailored to force him to return to jail each year for a decade to spend the anniversaries of his victims' deaths behind bars.
William Melchert-Dinkel was convicted of two counts of aiding suicide under a rarely used Minnesota law. Prosecutors said he posed online as a suicidal nurse and encouraged a Canadian woman and a British man to commit suicide.
Judge Thomas Neuville's sentence was less than the maximum 15 years Melchert-Dinkel could have gotten for each count. Neuville officially sentenced Melchert-Dinkel to six-and-a-half years in prison - but stayed execution of that sentence, meaning Melchert-Dinkel will go to prison only if he violates terms of his probation, which includes the jail time. He'll be on probation for 15 years.
Neuville compared Melchert-Dinkel's conduct to stalking, describing it as calculated, intentional, and fraudulent. But he also said that while Melchert-Dinkel's conduct was directly related to the deaths, he wasn't the sole reason the victims took their lives.
Melchert-Dinkel declined a jury trial, leaving Neuville to decide whether he was guilty. He was convicted in the death of 32-year-old Mark Drybrough, of Coventry, England, who hanged himself in 2005; and 18-year-old Nadia Kajouji, of Brampton, Ontario, who jumped into a frozen river in 2008.
He was ordered to start serving his jail sentence June 1. But his attorney had promised to appeal the convictions on free-speech grounds. If that appeal is filed before June 1, Melchert-Dinkel would remain free as his appeal is pending.
The judge structured the sentence so that Melchert-Dinkel would serve an initial 320 days, then be freed. Over the next 10 years, he would have to serve two-day spells in jail on the anniversaries of his victims' deaths.