First Amendment

Nurse Found Guilty of Encouraging Suicide in Online Chats

A Minnesota nurse had been convicted of two counts of aiding suicide for encouraging depressed people in online chats to kill themselves and offering instructions on how to do it.

William Melchert-Dinkel will appeal the verdict, issued in a bench trial, according to his lawyer, Terry Watkins. The Associated Press, the Coventry Telegraph and Minnesota Public Radio have the story.

Watkins said appeals courts will have to decide whether his client’s online comments were protected speech, given the defense view that the victims were already predisposed to commit suicide.

Judge Thomas Neuville of Minnesota’s Rice County rejected the free speech argument in his opinion (PDF posted by NPR). “Melchert-Dinkel was not merely expressing ideas about suicide,” he wrote. “The court finds that defendant’s speech imminently incited the victims to commit suicide, and can be described as ‘lethal advocacy,’ which is analogous to the category of unprotected speech known as ‘fighting words’ and ‘imminent incitement of lawlessness.’ “

Melchert-Dinkel was prosecuted under a Minnesota law that makes it a felony to intentionally advise, encourage or assist another person in taking his or her own life. He was charged after a concerned British woman, Celia Blay, tracked him down in an online sting in which one of her friends posed as someone considering suicide.

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