First Amendment

Nurse Who Encouraged Suicides in Online Chats Sentenced to Less than a Year in Jail


A former nurse who encouraged two depressed people to kill themselves in online chats has been sentenced to 360 days in jail.

Lawyers for former nurse William Melchert-Dinkel plan to appeal on free speech grounds, the Associated Press reports. He was convicted in March of two counts of aiding suicide in a bench trial in Minnesota.

Judge Thomas Neuville of Rice County said Melchert-Dinkel’s encouragement was not protected speech, according to the AP account. “The court does find that what you did was stalking, or soliciting people to die,” Neuville said during the sentencing on Wednesday. “I think that what you did was calculated, intentional.”

Melchert-Dinkel’s lawyer, Terry Watkins, said his client has Asperger’s syndrome, and that led to a fascination with suicide, according to Wasecacountynews.com.

Melchert-Dinkel was ordered to spend 320 consecutive days in jail, and then to serve two days each year on the anniversary of the death of his victims. He was also sentenced to 15 years of probation and banned from working in the health care field or using the Internet without court approval.

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