Confessions of an Internet Suicide Chat Room Ghoul
On Friday, April 30, 2010, William Melchert-Dinkel was formally charged with encouraging the suicides of Mark Drybrough in 2005 and Nadia Kajouji in 2008. The criminal complaint, filed in Rice County, Minnesota, contended that Melchert-Dinkel had told police that he encouraged "dozens" of people to commit suicide. He also said that he had stopped using Internet chat rooms shortly after Christmas 2008 because he "felt terrible" about having advocated that people kill themselves. He has not made any public comments about the charges against him. His next court appearance is set to occur on May 25, 2010.
By Minnesota law, if he is found guilty of aiding a person to commit suicide, he faces a sentence of up to 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $30,000.
Legal experts predict that Melchert-Dinkel's case will vigorously test freedom of speech issues, and some legal experts say that it could be difficult to prosecute him under the rarely enforced Minnesota law because he allegedly only verbally encouraged the victims to kill themselves and did not physically assist them in ending their lives.
"There are First Amendment rights that come into play here, about what people can and can't do over the Internet, or what they can or can't say," said Dan Reidenberg, executive director of Minnesota's Suicide Awareness Voices of Education. "The reality is, there has been anti-suicide laws on the books for many years. They rarely ever get prosecuted."
The State of Minnesota is now attempting to show that the state's assisted suicide laws apply to the virtual world as fully as they apply to the physical world. If Melchert-Dinkel's prosecution is successful, it will set a legal precedent.