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Faribault assisted suicide case back in court, under narrower law

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A Faribault man convicted three years ago of helping people kill themselves is back in court to face the same charges – this time under a narrower law.

The Associated Press reports prosecutors argued in a court hearing Friday that William Melchert-Dinkel not only encouraged two people to commit suicide, he also assisted them in doing so.

The distinction became important after the Minnesota Supreme Court this spring agreed with Melchert-Dinkel's argument that encouraging suicide is a form of free speech. The court overturned his 2011 conviction, ruling that Minnesota's law was too broad.

While the part of the law prohibiting people from encouraging suicide was ruled unconstitutional, assisting someone in carrying out their suicide remained illegal under the March ruling.

The allegations

As the Faribault Daily News reports, Melchert-Dinkel is a former licensed practical nurse at a Faribault nursing home. Prosecutors say he sought out suicidal people in online chat rooms, encouraged them to kill themselves, and coached them on how to do so.

The case involves the deaths of 32-year-old Mark Drybrough of Coventry, England, who hung himself in 2005, and 18-year-old Nadia Kajouji of Brampton, Ontario in Canada, who jumped into a frozen river in 2008.

The Daily News says Assistant County Attorney Terrence Swihart argued in court Friday that the advice Melchert-Dinkel provided met Minnesota's newly-clarified definition of assisting someone in a suicide:

“His intent was to help them so they would not fail in their attempts to commit suicide. Mr. Melchert-Dinkel provided specific information on how to kill yourself. He provided suicide methods. It went beyond moral viewpoint or expressing opinion," Swihart said.

Evidence introduced in his original trial showed Melchert-Dinkel advised Drybrough to hang himself instead of taking an overdose, which the former nurse said was an unreliable method. In Kajouji's case, Melchert-Dinkel posed as a female nurse who was also suicidal.

In its account the Daily News says defense attorney Terry Watkins maintained that while Melchert-Dinkel encouraged the suicides, he had no role in carrying them out. "Try as we might, the evidence just isn’t there. Advising is not prohibited. Pure speech is not prohibited, ” he said.

Rice County District Court Judge Thomas Neuville, who also heard the original case, will consider Friday's arguments in light of the revised law and is expected to issue a ruling within 30 days, the AP says.

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