What happens next in Minnesota v. William Melchert-Dinkel?
As we struggle to understand one of society’s last taboos – suicide – this latest round of Minnesota v. William Melchert-Dinkel proves how unprepared we are for the wave of suicide litigation and legislation that is coming. “Assisted” suicide and “assisting” suicide have never been more loaded rhetoric as both right-to-life advocates and suicide prevention activists compete for center stage to battle it out over our nation’s suicide ethics.
Will suicide be regarded as the lethal pox that stuffs its greedy jaws with another unnatural death every 13 minutes, 40,000 times a year? Or will it be my life, my choice? And what about the murky peripheral issues that will come with these lawsuits?
Rounds 1 through 4 of Minnesota v. William Melchert-Dinkel have been every bit as problematic as those of the late 1990s for assisted-suicide and euthanasia-activist Dr. Jack Kevorkian, who was convicted of second-degree murder for killing one of his terminally ill patients. Many believe Kevorkian’s divisive work ultimately led to the controversial legalization of physician-assisted suicide in four states – Oregon, Washington, Montana and Vermont.
Portrayed in the media as “Dr. Death,” Kevorkian had defiantly claimed to have assisted the dying of 130 patients. Eerily similar, suicide predator-nurse, William Melchert-Dinkel, has bragged about how many despondent people he has helped convince to die by suicide – five by his own count. Last month, Melchert-Dinkel was convicted for the second time, this time for “assisting” in the suicide death of one person and the “attempt to assist” in another.
The sentencing verdicts for both of these two prominent suicide proponents will be remembered as historically remarkable. While medical pathologist Dr. Jack Kevorkian served eight years in prison for his culpability in suicide death, William Melchert-Dinkel will serve 178 days.
Like Dr. Kevorkian, who had been released early from his 10-25 year prison term on the condition that he never conduct another assisted suicide, so William Melchert-Dinkel, too, will be expected to quell his female alter-egos, “Li Dao” and “Falcongirl,” who had trolled unsavory Internet websites such as alt.suicide.holiday “for the thrill of the chase” (his words) hoping to lure despondent victims to exploit for his personal gratification by way of fake suicide pacts.
As it stands now, if Melchert-Dinkel cannot control his suicide fetish for the probationary 10-year period, he will be sentenced to spend an additional three years in prison for his recidivism. Even so, he will still avoid the much harsher potential sentence for his crimes that could have been as much as a 22-year incarceration with fines of up to $44,000.
It is going to take some time for many of us to assimilate this news and in the end, all we are going to be left with is the historical record of who said what to whom and when, and what happened after that.
Minnesota v. William Melchert-Dinkel had never been about the lofty idea of someone suffering and being allowed to end a life with dignity (as those enamored of that suicide euphemism would insist). It will never be about a First Amendment free speech guarantee, either, no matter how often the ambition-driven defense lawyer Terry A. Watkins pitches that particular idea.
There is nothing about the immoral behavior of William Melchert-Dinkel that remotely merits holding him up as America’s poster boy for free speech. The ex-LPN, ex-trucker (yes, unemployed again) and presumably ex-predator’s salacious behavior tells us a lot about him and the untold misery he has inflicted on others.
Now, we have his atypical statement from the October 15 sentencing hearing. He says he is sorry and has “repented.” We also have his lawyer’s statement, too: “In many ways my client has already been punished by recognizing his involvement and the effect it had on his family.” His family.
We also have the legal words from District Judge Thomas Neuville, who first convicted Melchert-Dinkel in 2011 and again in September, 2014. In his latest sentencing, Judge Neuville said, “I believe you have suffered. My sentence is also an attempt to recognize the need for justice to the victims.”
And has justice been served? Will the four stipulations of his punishment fit the crime? Will cooling his heels for just under six months in the Rice County jail, performing 200 community service hours after his release, not chatting on the Internet except for work and paying a $1500 fine really be punishment enough for this person who clearly needs psychological help himself?
Would the family and friends of 18 year-old Nadia Kajouji, who ended her young life by jumping into the frigid waters of Ottawa’s Rideau River in 2008, or those of 32 year-old Mark Drybrough, who hanged himself per Melchert-Dinkel’s instructions in Coventry, England, in 2005, think this punishment was enough?
Many can sympathize with Judge Thomas Neuville, who first convicted Melchert-Dinkel under the Minnesota law that made it illegal to “advise” or “encourage” suicide (MN 609.215). His original conviction was upheld by the Minnesota Court of Appeals but was abruptly vacated in March 2014 by the Minnesota Supreme Court who declared the 128 year-old statute “unconstitutional,” striking out both “advise” and “encourage,” but leaving “assist,” since assisting in another’s suicide remains illegal in all United States jurisdictions unless you are a physician and then only in the four states that allow it.
Speech by itself, the high court argued, could be considered “assisting” a suicide if the words targeted a specific person and provided the victim with what was needed to carry out the act. While this new definition fit Drybrough’s death by hanging because Melchert-Dinkel had given him specific instructions, it did not apply to Kajouji’s death since she had not followed his “instructions.”
Whether Minnesota’s new law means it is technically “legal” to encourage and/or advise suicide in that state – according to the way most of us use language – is now anyone’s guess, but it is exactly how many journalists this week described what Melchert-Dinkel had done to go to jail in the first place, writing headlines such as “Minnesota suicide fetish nurse gets jail for convincing two people to take their lives” and “Man who encouraged suicide gets jail time.”
Why worry, though, about interpretation and the semantics of suicide baiting, much less the suicide euphemisms many prefer such as “death with dignity?” After all, a 52 year old predator has been effectively “stopped.”
We should worry because Melchert-Dinkel’s defense lawyer Terry A. Watkins has not.
Already Watkins has reported his plans to appeal. Most likely, he is gearing up not only with the same First Amendment issues, but with due process arguments as well since the original charge had not included “assisted.”
Watkins has also indicated he wants to add probable cause into the case, too, citing the absent cause and effect link between Melchert-Dinkel’s words and the subsequent act of suicide – “the nexus of activity” – an idea first articulated by Minnesota constitutional law professor Raleigh Levin.
The imminent Round 5 will mean another grueling legal nightmare for the loved ones of Nadia and Mark, and most of us will find our sympathies lie with these people. They have waited so long for accountability and justice. Surely, too, everyone who follows this case is tired of hearing ad nauseam Watkins’ tired little potboiler philosophy that a “moral wrong” is not the same as “a legal wrong.”
If William Frances Melchert-Dinkel were truly as repentant as he says he is, he would just tell his lawyer Terry A. Watkins to shut up. If either had lost a child this way, they would.
R.I.P. Dylan Yount, Suicide Baiting Victim, February 16, 2010, Hallidie Plaza, San Francisco. While I have breath, I will fight in your memory.