Conviction for encouraging student’s suicide overturned
Carleton University student Nadia Kajouji jumped into the Rideau River in April 2008. (Supplied Photo)
OTTAWA ─ The crux of a case surrounding the suicide of Carleton University student Nadia Kajouji, and whether a Minnesota man helped convince her to do it, hinged on two words: "encourage" and "assist."
The Minnesota Supreme Court on Wednesday overturned the convictions of William Melchert-Dinkel, the former nurse who was found guilty of two counts of aiding suicide in the deaths of Kajouji, 18, and another man, Mark Drybrough, 32.
The court ruled the language surrounding the state's assisted-suicide law relating to "encouraging" suicide is unconstitutional.
But it upheld the part of the law that bans "assisting" suicide.
Melchert-Dinkel's attorney, Terry Watkins, said while his heart goes out to the families of the victims, he "couldn't be any more satisfied" with the ruling.
"It just is a very, very disturbing set of circumstances no matter how you look at it and we never pretended otherwise," Watkins told QMI Agency. "We just said no matter how disturbing it is, it sill represented free speech."
The ruling implies speech could be used to assist a suicide, said Watkins, but it would have to go beyond circumstances like words of compassion.
The district court will now rule on whether Melchert-Dinkel assisted in their suicides. Whether a new trial is granted depends on that outcome, according to Watkins.
It was March 1, 2008, when Kajouji reached out to an online suicide site, asking for thoughts on ways to kill herself that would be quick, reliable and look like an accident, according to court documents.
Five days later, Melchert-Dinkel answered, pretending to be a female nurse who was also suicidal.
The teen told Melchert-Dinkel she planned to kill herself by jumping off a bridge, wearing ice skates, to make it look like an accident. Melchert-Dinkel suggested she hang herself instead, saying they "would die today if we could" and "I wish (we both) could die now," according to court documents.
More messages were exchanged on March 9, 2011 the day Kajouji e-mailed her roommates to say she was going ice skating.
Six weeks later, her body, with ice skates strapped on, was pulled from the Rideau River.
Melchert-Dinkel was sentenced in May 2011 to 360 days in jail, but his sentence was on hold pending the appeal.