Note: The following is part of the series of full chapter excerpts from my latest book, a collaborative effort with television’s Cop Doc, Dr. Richard Weinblatt, Tasers, Abortions and Parenting: Behind the Curtain of Policing America. Click on the title to obtain your copy of the complete book today.
“The basis for the assimilation or perhaps reconciliation of virtual and physical realities in terms of law enforcement starts with the basic premise of criminal law, which as Susan Brenner who is the NCR Distinguished Professor of Law and Technology at the School of Law stated in a May 6th, 2009 article, is about “preventing the infliction of harm.”
Susan Brenner, NCR Distinguished Professor of Law and Technology at the School of Law (May 6th, 2009)
The basic premise of criminal law is a key tenet of Brenner’s in terms of distinguishing between physical and virtual criminal acts.
While Brenner, who went on to say that “we should not simply assume criminal conduct vectored through cyberspace represents an entirely new phenomenon, i.e. cybercrime,” as it may represent “nothing more than the perpetrators’ using cyberspace to engage in conduct that has long been outlawed,” would seem to support a unification of the real-world and Internet realms when it comes to the universal application of laws, hers is not necessarily a clear cut proposition.
Specifically, Brenner contends that the disconnect between societal sensibilities or morals and the technical aspects of law that lead to conflicts in the physical world do not simply disappear in cyberspace. In fact, and if anything, the introduction of the virtual element creates even greater confusion.
As a result, and based on the providence of timing, rather than viewing the question of cybercrime through the hypothetical posturing of academic debate, in this chapter we will examine through a series or diary of articles one of the most controversial Internet cases in recent memory. We are of course talking about the case of the Serial Suicide Killer William Melchert-Dinkel, who’s recent seminal bench trial conviction for violating the State of Minnesota’s assisted suicide law promises to set an important case precedence relative to a variety of issues including the application of physical laws in the virtual world, the right to die and even to a lesser degree the right to free speech.
Consisting of more than 25 posts to the PI Window on Business Blog between August 21st, 2010 and March 17th, 2011, this series of articles features exclusive interviews with key insiders into the case including the mother of 18 year old Canadian Nadia Kajouji.
Through this series of articles, we will provide you with both a logical and sequential timeline as to how the case progressed from the levelling of initial charges, to an examination of the defense’s pre-trial motions and the subsequent decision to pursue a bench versus jury trial including the analysis of the actual verdict.
Even though we of course have our respective opinions as to the core elements of this case, including the veracity of the outcome, we will ultimately leave it to you the reader who after all best represents the societal sensibilities to which we had referred earlier, to reach your own conclusions.
Regardless of your position, the Melchert-Dinkel case is likely the first and most significant step towards reconciling what has to this point been viewed as the separate realms of the physical and virtual worlds.
The Serial Suicide Killer (A Case Diary)
August 21st, 2010 – Are First Amendment Rights Becoming The Ultimate Excuse For Bad Behavior?
From Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s capricious on-air use of the “N” word, to the accused suicide serial killer William Melchert-Dinkel, who by his own admission has insidiously encouraged at least two people over the Internet to take their lives, their claims that their First Amendment Rights have somehow been violated seems like a pathetic attempt to draw the attention away from the bad behavior that got them in hot water in the first place.
Let’s think about this for a moment, because I am still having a good deal of difficulty in getting my head around what amounts to an indignant and even shameful cry of foul by two individuals who were and are clearly in the wrong.
To start, I doubt that this malleability of application being sought to justify Schlessinger’s words and Melchert-Dinkel’s actions were the freedoms that had been contemplated when the First Amendment was adopted on December 15, 1791.
In fact it would probably be a safe bet that whether you were an Alexander Hamilton-type Federalist or a Thomas Jefferson Anti-Federalist supporter, the one thing upon which there would be no disagreement is that the perversion of the spirit of Freedom of Speech proffered by these individuals would be met and dismissed with equal contempt.
Perhaps it is the spirit of the First Amendment that has been lost, and with it the realization and acknowledgment that being born in a country whose values still hold dear the concept of true freedom is also a privilege. A hard earned right born of both courage and sacrifice by those that came before us.
In this regard, I cannot help but feel that we have taken this right of freedom for granted, and in doing so have somehow taken license to twist it to meet our own selfish ends and personal agendas.
This is of course the greater sadness that transcends to a certain extent the actions of these two individuals, who while vastly different in their infractions are forever connected through their misuse of the very principles and ideals that make America great.
Today is the 70th Anniversary of The Battle of Britain, when Winston Churchill delivered his historic “finest hour” speech to the House of Commons, in which he said of the air crews “never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”
Of the reported 2,900 British and Allied airmen who took part in the Battle of Britain, more than 500 were killed.
Of course, so many more men and women perished in the wars that were fought on the principle of defending personal freedom. I wonder how they would feel if they knew that their paying the ultimate price would today be used by a radio personality and serial killer as a shield to protect them from the consequences of their actions.
Maybe a moment of silent reflection should not be limited to Memorial Day.
August 24th, 2010 – How Many More Nadia’s: The Serial Suicide Killer Finds A Loop Hole
“Bill M-388, tabled in the House of Commons on May 26th by Albrecht, proposes that the government should ensure that counselling, aiding or abetting a person to commit suicide is a Criminal Code offence “regardless of the means used to counsel or aid or abet including via telecommunications, the Internet or a computer system.”
“While the Internet is deemed as a haven for free speech, it is important to protect individuals like Nadia from committing suicide at the encouragement of a predator,” said Albrecht, Member of Parliament for Kitchener-Conestoga.”
(The above excerpts, which are from a June 16th, 2009 LifeSiteNews.com article by Thaddeus M. Baklinski, pertains to the case of William Melchert-Dinkel, who has admitted to US police that he coaxed at least five different people to commit suicide using the internet.)
Included amongst his victims was 18 year old Nadia Kajouji, a student at Carleton University in Ottawa who killed herself after being “encouraged” to do so in a series of internet chat room discussions with Melchert-Dinkel.
Alex Schadenberg, who is my guest today, is from the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition in London, Ontario and he believes that the RCMP should consider extraditing William Melchert-Dinkel, as it is a crime under Canadian law (Section 241) to Aid, Abet and Counsel suicide, whether suicide occurs or not.
“In this case Kajouji was counselled via the internet to commit suicide and there appears to be enough evidence to charge Melchert-Dinkel,” Schadenberg said.
Despite those sentiments, Melchert-Dinkel’s case is being tried in Rice County District Court in the State of Minnesota near his home town of Faribalt. Even more disconcerting is the fact that his lawyer Terry Watkins said after the hearing he expects his client to be acquitted. The reason amongst others . . . because it’s a violation of his client’s right to free speech. According to a June 30th, 2010 article in the Faribalt Daily News by Shane Kitzman, Watkins also argues for a dismissal saying “the law is being used vaguely and that there’s lack of probable cause.”
Given the complexities of the laws involving Internet crime, especially spanning numerous international jurisdictions, there is a very real possibility that Melchert-Dinkel may indeed walk.
August 25th, 2010 – Is The Internet A Safe Haven For Serial Killers?
“While the Internet is deemed as a haven for free speech, it is important to protect individuals like Nadia from committing suicide at the encouragement of a predator.”
(The above quote is from the opening paragraph for both my August 24th PI Window on Business blog post and August 25th radio segment titled “How Many More Nadia’s: The Serial Suicide Killer Finds A Loop Hole.”)
I was of course talking about The Serial Suicide Killer as I have called him, William Melchert-Dinkel, a 47 year old former nurse and father of two daughters who admits to coaxing five people to commit suicide including 18 year old Ottawa student Nadia Kajouji, and likely encouraging dozens more to follow suit.
What was his weapon of choice? The Internet!
I went on to write that “Given the complexities of the laws involving Internet crime, especially spanning numerous international jurisdictions, there is a very real possibility that Melchert-Dinkel may indeed walk.”
Citing everything from a violation of his right to free speech and what his lawyer Terry Watkins refers to as the vague use of the law and that as a result there is a lack of probable cause, an acquittal despite the admission and corroborating evidence could happen.
This leads to a number of troubling yet interesting questions including whether or not Melchert-Dinkel is in fact a serial killer and, if the Internet is likely to become a predator’s haven from prosecution.
August 26th, 2010 – Cyber War and the Emergence of the Borderless Criminal: Why the Melchert-Dinkel Serial Killer Case Should Be a Slam Dunk . . . For the Prosecution
“The basis for the assimilation or perhaps reconciliation of virtual and physical realities in terms of law enforcement starts with the basic premise of criminal law, which as Susan Brenner who is the NCR Distinguished Professor of Law and Technology at the School of Law stated in a May 6th, 2009 article, is about “preventing the infliction of harm.”
Brenner went on to say that “we should not simply assume criminal conduct vectored through cyberspace represents an entirely new phenomenon, i.e. cybercrime,” as it may represent “nothing more than the perpetrators’ using cyberspace to engage in conduct that has long been outlawed.”
The long and the short of the William Melchert-Dinkel case, is that by his own admission he misrepresented himself to vulnerable and emotionally ill people over the Internet as a young, female nurse, coaxing them to commit suicide and requesting that they allow him to watch them take their own lives via webcam.
Having confessed to encouraging dozens of people to commit suicide over the Internet, he is now facing trial in Rice County, Minnesota for two deaths in which he played an integral part. One is the suicide of Nadia Kajouji, an 18 year old university student from Ottawa, Canada and the other a 32 year old man (Mark Drybrough) from Coventry in the UK.
While we will be delving into the question of whether or not Melchert-Dinkel is a new breed of serial killer – after all he provided Drybrough with detailed instructions on how to hang himself, right down to the placement of the knot on the noose so as to leave a distinguishable impression behind his left ear (a signature of a serial killer as far as I am concerned), when I interview renown criminal profiler Pat Brown on September 1st at 10:00 PM EST, laws of the physical world have indeed been broken.
With regard to Nadia Kajouji, Section 241(b) of the Canadian Criminal Code, which prohibits the giving of assistance to commit suicide, as stood up to what can be referred to as legitimate challenges such as the landmark 1993 Canadian Supreme Court decision in the case between Rodriguez v. British Columbia (Attorney General)  3 S.C.R. 519.
In the 1993 case, 42 year old Sue Rodriguez, who had been diagnosed in 1992 with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (otherwise known as ALS or “Lou Gehrig’s disease”), sought to have the law overturned based on the argument that it was contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In a 5 to 4 decision, the court upheld the provision in the Canadian Criminal Code.
Even in Minnesota, the jurisdiction where Melchert-Dinkel is facing trial for the Kajouji and Drybrough deaths, an August 24th, 2010 article in the stpeterherald.com website by Derek Wehrwein, reported that what is “at issue is a Minnesota law that makes illegal intentionally advising, encouraging or assisting another in taking the other’s own life.”
However and here is where there is considerable gray area, the law according to Wehrwein “doesn’t specifically address situations involving communication via the Internet.” This as it turns out is the basis upon which some legal experts (including Melchert-Dinkel’s lawyer Terry Watkins) have suggested that freedom of speech issues could play a role in the case.
The issue of free speech notwithstanding, we are now brought back full circle to Susan Brenner’s May 6th, 2009 article that happens to share the same views associated with the introduction of Bill M-388 in late 2009 by Canadian Member of Parliament Harold Albrecht. Bill M-388 “urges action against those who counsel or assist in suicides, specifically targeting those suicides that are promoted through the internet.”
Albrecht’s motion which it should be noted was passed, and came about as a result of the death of Canadian citizen Nadia Kajouji reads, “That, in the opinion of the House, for greater certainty, the government should take steps to ensure that counselling a person to commit suicide or aiding or abetting a person to commit suicide is an offence under section 241 of the Criminal Code, regardless of the means used to counsel or aid or abet including via telecommunications, the Internet or a computer system.”
This leads to an even bigger question with considerably broader consequences . . . if it is considered to be a crime in the physical world, why would it also not be considered a crime in the virtual world?
In the Brenner article, she argued that “even though cybercrime—like witchcraft—departs from the traditional model of crime insofar as it involves the use of “otherworldly” forces, this, alone, does not justify creating specific cybercrime offenses.”
Brenner then went on to argue “that even though it involves conduct vectored though a non-corporeal reality, cybercrime is merely a method crime, i.e., crime the commission of which is distinct due to the tool the perpetrator uses,” and therefore “we do not need a “law of cybercrimes;” we can address cybercrime by using traditional offenses that are revised, as necessary, to encompass the digital versions of these crimes.”
I must admit that Brenner’s approach does seem to be quite logical and even reasonable. Certainly, and following Brenner’s train of thought, the amendment of an existing law versus the creation of a new “cyber” law would represent a less onerous process and, serve as merely an extension of the principles behind a current law.
Perhaps at the risk of presenting an overly simplistic analogy, if before the invention of guns I intentionally kill someone with a knife during the commission of a robbery, am I not guilty of murder? The introduction of a gun or a laser beam as my weapon therefore should not change the basic premise that by my hand another person would be dead.
August 28th, 2010 – In A Mother’s Words: Nadia Kajouji’s Mother to Talk About Her Daughter and the Serial Killer Responsible For Her Death
One of William Melchert-Dinkel’s victims was 18 year old Nadia Kajouji whose body washed up near the edge of the Rideau River behind St. Paul’s University more than 40 days after she was reported missing.
While the legal system debates the merits of bringing Melchert-Dinkel (to whom I have referred to as the Serial Suicide Killer in previous posts) to trial, based on his defense that his right to free speech has somehow been violated, I am inclined to share a similar sentiment to that of criminal profiler Pat Brown.
Specifically, as Pat – who is my guest this upcoming Wednesday evening at 10:00 PM EST would say, sometimes we pay far too much attention to these cowards who perpetrate such horrible crimes, and in the process overlook quite unintentionally the victims and their families.
In an effort to give a voice to Nadia and those who loved her dearly, we will be joined by her mother Deborah Chevalier during the first segment of our September 1st broadcast.
Deborah will share with us the story of her daughter and, her personal thoughts on Melchert-Dinkel and his upcoming trial in Minnesota.
While you can access our past coverage through the links below, for those who may be “tuning in” for the first time, Melchert-Dinkel has been charged in the deaths of both Nadia Kajouji (a Canadian citizen), and 32 year old Mark Drybrough (a UK citizen) under a Minnesota law that makes illegal intentionally advising, encouraging or assisting another in taking the other’s own life.”
By his own admission, Melchert-Dinkel encouraged probably dozens of persons to commit suicide and characterized it as “the thrill of the chase.”
Portraying himself to vulnerable and emotionally ill people over the Internet as a young, female nurse, coaxing them to commit suicide and requesting that they allow him to watch them take their own lives via webcam, Melchert-Dinkel even convinced Drybrough to place the noose’s knot in a particular way so as to leave a distinguishing signature mark behind his left ear.
September 5th, 2010 – The Constitution is not a Suicide Pact: The questions and perhaps answers regarding The Serial Suicide Killer’s First Amendment Rights can be found in a statement by Abraham Lincoln
Life is often times filled with many ironies accentuated by the intersecting of seemingly unrelated events and elements that transcends both time and perhaps – at least on the surface, logic.
Let’s consider the case of William Melchert-Dinkel, who faces trial for coaxing two individuals over the Internet to commit suicide and, by his own admission, encouraging dozens of others to follow suit while having the audacity to suggest that they take their lives in front of their web cam for his viewing pleasure.
Taking into account the fact that Melchert-Dinkel violated Minnesota’s assisted suicide law, as well as the laws of the countries of which the two victims were citizens (Canada and the UK), one would not unreasonably believe that this is a fairly straight forward case.
Especially when even those organizations that advocate a person’s right to die and support assisted suicide such as Compassion and Choices (formerly the Hemlock Society), have distanced themselves from him as well as his actions.
However, and as those experienced in the law will tell you, rarely if ever is the route from trial to justice a straight one. A point I had emphasized in my August 25th post “Is The Internet A Safe Haven For Serial Killers,” when I wrote the following:
“Given the complexities of the laws involving Internet crime, especially spanning numerous international jurisdictions, there is a very real possibility that Melchert-Dinkel may indeed walk.”
Citing everything from a violation of his right to free speech and what his lawyer Terry Watkins refers to as the vague use of the law and that as a result there is a lack of probable cause, an acquittal despite the admission and corroborating evidence could happen.”
It would appear that there are legal experts who would support Watkins in his position, as well as even those in the media such as Mike Masnick.
Masnick, is the founder and CEO of the weblog Techdirt, which focuses on the news and issues associated with the high tech world. He is also known for coining the phrase “The Streisand Effect,” which is a theory that is based on the belief that any “attempt to censor or remove a piece of information has the unintended consequences of causing the information to be publicized widely and to a greater extent than would have occurred if no censorship had been attempted.” Sounds like a great story for another day.
With regard to the Melchert-Dinkel story, and in particular the vagueness of the Minnesota law, Masnick wrote in his May 14th, 2010 post Is It Illegal To Tell People How To Commit Suicide Online?;
“That “advises” part seems especially broad. Again, this is a tricky situation no matter what. It’s certainly difficult to defend this guy and his actions. But, there are larger issues here, concerning freedom of expression and a potentially overly broad law.”
Masnick’s statement immediately turned my attention to what I can only refer to as one of those intersecting ironies, in which a rhetorical phrase attributed to Abraham Lincoln appears to be both timely and applicable. I am of course talking about the phrase “The Constitution is not a suicide pact.”
Given Melchert-Dinkel’s propensity for entering into “suicide pacts” with his emotionally vulnerable victims, while posing as a young female nurse, the Lincoln statement is eerily powerful.
The sentiments behind the term are based on the premise that constitutional restrictions on governmental power must give way to urgent practical needs.
For example, Lincoln used this statement in response to criticism that his suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War violated the U.S. Constitution.
Throughout history, such collisions between individual rights and freedoms and protecting the greater good of societal interests are nothing new.
North of the 49th parallel for example, many older Canadians will readily recall the time that then Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau invoked Canada’s War Measures Act following the FLQ abductions of James Cross and Pierre Laporte, and the subsequent death of Laporte at the hands of his kidnappers in 1970.
Trudeau, who had long been a strong advocate of civil liberties, made the iconic statement that still echoes throughout the halls of Canadian politics “Just watch me” when asked by a reporter how far he would go “in the suspension of civil liberties to maintain order.”
Perhaps it is within the context of the willingness on the part of one of our civil rights champions to quickly impose Martial Law to serve the greater good of the nation that makes the strongest argument for those who sought Melchert-Dinkel’s extradition to Canada to face trial.
While there are rumblings that such an effort is currently underway, as it stands today The Serial Suicide Killer is going to stand trial in the United States.
In light of this present reality, U.S. history does give us possible insight into how the question of Melchert- Dinkel’s free speech may be viewed by a U.S. Jury. Although, we should expand this contemplation of response to include the possibility of a Judge rendering a verdict as Nadia Kajouji’s mother, Deborah Chevalier expressed the belief that her daughter’s killer would likely opt for a hearing of his case before a judge only, versus a jury of his peers.
A good starting point as to what jury and or judge may consider is the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.
Even though Thomas Jefferson did not personally believe that the Constitution bestowed upon the government the “right to acquire or possess foreign territory,” he nonetheless signed the treaty.
His reasons, as he would later write, were based on the following;
“a strict observance of the written law is doubtless one of the high duties of a good citizen, but it is not the highest. The laws of necessity, of self-preservation, of saving our country when in danger, are of higher obligation. To lose our country by a scrupulous adherence to the written law, would be to lose the law itself, with life, liberty, property and all those who are enjoying them with us; thus absurdly sacrificing the ends to the means.”
Using Jefferson as a point of reference, where is the greater danger to society in the case of Melchert-Dinkel?
In more recent times, Terminiello v. Chicago 337 U.S. 1 (1949) presents another compelling point of reference.
A Catholic priest under suspension, Arthur Terminiello criticized various racial groups and made a number of inflammatory comments during a speech to the Christian Veterans of America group.
During Terminiello’s oratory approximately 1,000 people had gathered in protest outside of the hall, and the resulting inability of the Chicago Police Department to maintain order led to his being fined $100 for violation of the City’s Breach of peace ordinance.
Even though the Illinois Appellate Court and the Illinois Supreme Court affirmed the conviction, Terminiello appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court where Justice William O. Douglas ruled in favor of the priest whose anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi ranting’s had incited the riot in the first place.
In explaining his decision, Justice Douglas expressed the opinion that Chicago’s Breach of Peace ordinance had violated Terminiello’s First Amendment Rights.
Although Justice Douglas “acknowledged that freedom of speech was not limitless” referencing in particular the “fighting words doctrine” associated with Chaplinsky v. State of New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568 (1942), it did not in his opinion apply to the Terminiello case. Not everyone agreed with Douglas’ decision.
One such dissenting voice was that of Associate Justice Robert Jackson, who in a 24 page response wrote;
“The choice is not between order and liberty. It is between liberty with order and anarchy without either. There is danger that, if the court does not temper its doctrinaire logic with a little practical wisdom, it will convert the constitutional Bill of Rights into a suicide pact.”
This again raises the question with regard to the Melchert-Dinkel case . . . is a “doctrinaire logic” pertaining to the right of free speech overshadowing the practical wisdom to which Jackson was referring?
There is of course no shortage of case references regarding the rights of the individual versus the interests of society as a whole including Kennedy v. Mendoza-Martinez, in which Justice Arthur Goldberg wrote the court’s opinion that “laws permitting stripping draft evaders of their citizenship,” was “unconstitutional.”
I can even think of the 2006 book by Richard Posner titled “Not a Suicide Pact: The Constitution in a Time of National Emergency,” in which the Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and professor at the University of Chicago Law School wrote “the scope of constitutional rights must be adjusted in a pragmatic but rational manner.”
What the above examples tell me is that even though there is no doubt that individual freedoms are the linchpin of this great nation, the laws of self-preservation and of saving our country when in danger, balanced by practical wisdom in a pragmatic and rational manner would reasonably indicate that we possess another important freedom. The freedom of choice! A freedom which includes the ability to thoughtfully and intelligently apply the very laws that is there to protect us from harm.
In short, people make laws. And through free will and good conscience, the laws exist to serve the people versus the people serving the law.
The only question that remains is not one of lofty legal debate but more specifically, what in both our individual and collective good conscience is a fair outcome for William Melchert-Dinkel and his victims Nadia Kajouji and Mark Drybrough?
September 5th, 2010 – Melchert-Dinkel’s Reference to “Legal Murder” Hints at the Existence of a Predator Network
In what I can only describe as an ominously foreboding awakening of dread, I received the following excerpt from a November 2006 William Melchert-Dinkel e-mail detailing his specific reference to what he termed as “legal murder.”
In referencing “people” who encourage depressed individuals to commit suicide, the Serial Suicide Killer wrote that “it is their ‘victory, in other words….legal murder.”
The fact that Melchert-Dinkel, who we know at the time was himself engaging in the very activity of the people to which he had referenced in his e-mail, would intimate that there are others out there like him should indeed send a collective shiver throughout society as a whole.
And as Judge Richard Posner argued in his book “Not a Suicide Pact: The Constitution in a Time of National Emergency,” that in facing terrorism and the threat of WMDs, the scope of constitutional rights must be “adjusted in a pragmatic but rational manner,” similar consideration needs to be given to the Melchert-Dinkel’s and those that comprise his terrorist cell.
While some may consider the reference to these predators as being a terrorist cell overly dramatic bordering perhaps on the extreme, when you consider the insidious manner in which a Melchert-Dinkel seeps into the supposed safety of the homes and lives of by his own admission dozens of people, usually when they are at their most vulnerable, the threat is no less real and widespread.
Through this lens, even if you were to discount the terrorist cell comparison, lawmakers would be ill-advised to simply view this as an isolated incident in which a single individual’s rights are purportedly at stake.
In this regard, decisions such as the one made by Craigslist this weekend to “surrender” its legal fight over erotic ads posted on its website by “shutting down its adult services section Saturday and replacing it with a black bar that simply says censored,” is worth noting.
In his prosecution of Melchert-Dinkel, perhaps Rice County Attorney G. Paul Beaumaster should follow the same aggressive lead of the Attorney Generals involved with the Craigslist investigation, whose position that “there weren’t enough protections against blocking potentially illegal ads promoting prostitution” was likely the main reason the online classified community made the decision to pull the plug on its adult services?
One thing is for certain, if there are indeed other William Melchert-Dinkels out there, this is likely just the tip of the proverbial iceberg of what will ultimately be exposed as a social network of predators and serial killers who are adept at leveraging the latest and greatest technology to destroy lives.
In this regard, the State of Minnesota v. William Francis Melchert-Dinkel, Prosecutor File No. A-10-0136 filed on April 23rd, 2010 will either stem the tide of murder by suicide or open the flood gates to a Pandora’s Box that will not be easy to close down the road.
If the world isn’t watching, it should be!
October 29th, 2010 – Trial of the Serial Suicide Killer not a question of freedom of speech or a person’s right to die, it is a question of intent!
As I was pondering the pending trial of Serial Suicide Killer William Melchert-Dinkel, I could not help but wonder what my opening remarks would be if I was the prosecuting attorney.
While the issue of the First Amendment relating to freedom of speech and a person’s inalienable right to die that is being presented as a viable defense for Melchert-Dinkel has credence in some legal circles, the real question that needs to be considered is one of intent.
Within this context, I would likely say to the jury:
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury . . .
If William Melchert-Dinkel had truly been exercising his right to free speech or championing a person’s right to take their own life, then why pose as a young female nurse and obfuscate his true identity?
If his intentions were in fact to help people in reaching a difficult decision at the crossroads of their life, then words such as “the thrill of the chase” and indirect references to finding a way to “commit legal murder” would never have been spoken or written. Nor would he have attempted to talk these people into taking their lives in front of their Internet camera thereby enabling him in a perverse form of sadistic voyeurism to watch.
If Melchert-Dinkel’s intentions were truly a matter of free speech related to an individual’s right of self-determination, there would not have been the need to lie to his victims by knowingly entering into what was in reality a one-sided suicide pact. It would also be unlikely that he would take the time to meticulously instruct victim Mark Drybrough as to how to place the nooses knot that he used to hang himself so as to leave a distinguishable mark just under his left ear.
No ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the real question . . . the only question is one of intent!
Did William Melchert-Dinkel intend to do harm? Did he seek to gain perverted pleasure from his ability to coerce people who, at the lowest point in their lives, were vulnerable to his malicious subterfuge?
In weighing the evidence you will hear over the course of this trial ladies and gentlemen of the jury, ask yourself this one question . . . if you had a loved one – a daughter, a brother or mother – going through a difficult time, would you entrust their well-being to William Melchert-Dinkel?
The verdict . . . your verdict, is found in the answer to that question.
In the first of what will be a series of posts, I will talk about a discussion I had with victim Nadia Kajouji’s mother Deborah Chevalier, who shared with me an overview of an e-mail she received from Ottawa police investigators as to why the Crown Attorney did not want to pursue the case here in Canada.
Even though I am not a lawyer, I believe that my opening remarks to my imaginary jury is nonetheless both compelling and damning in terms of Melchert-Dinkel’s actions and ultimate guilt. In the next post I will provide the legal basis for this view and why, the Crown Attorney in Canada should have sought to extradite the Serial Suicide Killer and try him in this country before purported issues of double jeopardy came into play.
November 1st, 2010 – Canadian Crown Attorney Should Have Eaten His or Her Wheaties RE Serial Suicide Killer Prosecution
I remember last year doing research on the theory of parental alienation and the role it plays in custody hearings, and thinking how wonderfully complex from an interpretive standpoint the law by which such trials are adjudicated can be.
Specifically, the fact that rather than being static, laws much like an elastic band are actually meant to be challenged or stretched as a means of maintaining their veracity in terms of reflecting our collective social mores.
However, and like the proverbial Rubik’s Cube, for many this very elasticity of subjective interpretation can be frustrating in and of itself. The frustration level can of course increase based on the absence of connecting logic to support a particular decision.
A perfect example of this very observation came up in my most recent discussion with Nadia Kajouji’s mother Deborah Chevalier.
As you already know based on this blog’s extensive coverage, Nadia Kajouji of Ottawa and Mark Drybrough from Coventry in the UK both committed suicide at the encouragement of Internet predator William Melchert-Dinkel, whom I have called the Serial Suicide Killer.
Melchert-Dinkel, a resident of Faribault, Minnesota has been charged with two counts of violating that State’s Suicide Aiding law 609.215 subd. 1, for which the penalty is “imprisonment for not more than 15 years or a fine of not more than $30,000 or both.” He is currently facing trial in Rice County, Minnesota. The trial has yet to start, which is an important point that I will come back to again shortly.
Reading through the actual complaint, Melchert-Dinkel not only admits to playing a role in the deaths for which he has been charged, as well as potentially three others – bringing the total to five possible victims, he also stated that he recognized the questionable “moral” and “ethical” implications of his actions as a suicide advocate and, that he “thought assisting suicide was illegal, and that it was illegal in Minnesota.” (Note: in an upcoming post I will present the highlights from the actual complaint and what they mean from the standpoint of the prosecution.)
Suffice to say, there is little question as to Melchert-Dinkel’s “role” in the deaths of both Nadia and Drybrough.
The question that does remain is simply this, why isn’t Melchert-Dinkel facing trial in Canada, which is where his nearest victim (at least by what we know at this point in time) lived? You would think that given the fact that 18 year old Nadia is from Ottawa, the Crown Attorney here would have been chomping at the bit to extradite The Serial Suicide Killer and bring him to justice in this country. Especially taking into account the opinions expressed by MP Harold Albrecht during my August 31st interview with the Deputy Government Whip (PI News Flash: Cyberwar and the Emergence of the Borderless Predator).
Mr. Albrecht, whose unyielding determination and commitment led to the passing of Motion 388 which “urges action against those who counsel or assist in suicides, specifically targeting those suicides that are promoted through the internet,” while admitting that he wasn’t a lawyer indicated that he was “fairly confident that had this occurred in Canada that we would not have waited this long” to lay charges. In short, Canada would have moved much faster relative to laying charges against Melchert-Dinkel.
This of course is where the Rubik’s Cube conundrum comes into play.
As it turns out, and referring to an e-mail she recently received from Ottawa Police, rather than moving faster, the Crown Attorney in Ottawa informed Deborah that they had decided not to pursue the case citing amongst other things double jeopardy, resulting in an inability to prosecute Melchert-Dinkel because he is facing trial in the US.
There was also references made to the US – Canada extradition treaty, which purportedly prevents Melchert-Dinkel from being tried here in Canada for the same offenses he is facing in the US courts. Interesting, but is it really an accurate reflection of the facts or, is it subject to the elasticity of interpretation where the will to try a case (or lack thereof) is the determining factor.
Well, let’s look at the double jeopardy angle being presented as a reason for not extraditing Melchert-Dinkel to face trial in the country of one of his victims.
According to one legal opinion dated May 14th, 2009, there is no “double jeopardy prohibition if a case is still pending trial.” In this specific example (Extradition of Ye Gon— F.Supp.2d —-, 2009 WL 1311495D.D.C.,2009) a federal magistrate had certified Mr. Ye Gon for extradition to Mexico, while his criminal case was still pending in the United States.
Again, and I want to remind you that I am not a lawyer but, according to Non Bis In Idem or “Not twice for the same thing.” in Black’s Law Dictionary 1051 (6th ed.1991), Article 6 of the extradition Treaty in question provides: “Extradition shall not be granted when the person sought has been prosecuted or has been tried and convicted or acquitted by the requested Party for the offense for which extradition is requested.”
Of particular interest in this specific case is the past tense reference relating to the “has been prosecuted” or “has been tried and convicted or acquitted” that was ultimately the deciding factor. “Phrased as it is in the past tense,” contends the article’s author the words “has been prosecuted” should not be interpreted to “encompass the yet-to-be completed criminal case in the United States.”
As far as I know the Melchert-Dinkel trial as yet to be tried. Even if it were tried and a verdict delivered, that wonderful elasticity of the law means that not even the above interpretation is bullet proof as demonstrated by Canada v. Schmidt,  1 S.C.R. 500.
According to case records, the defendant in the case, Helen Susan Schmidt a Canadian citizen, was charged along with her son and his friend with kidnapping a young girl in Cleveland, Ohio in 1982 claiming that the child was her granddaughter.
As kidnapping in the United States is a Federal Offence, she was tried at the Federal level on this charge, while Ohio charged her with “child stealing” which is an offence in that state.
In 1982 she was acquitted of the kidnapping charge, but fled to Canada prior to the start of the state trial for child stealing. Even though facing the child stealing charge was not considered to be double jeopardy after her acquittal on the kidnapping charge according to the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, Schmidt fought the extradition as a violation of double jeopardy rights under section 11(h) of the Canadian Charter.”
Schmidt ultimately lost her case, and in citing his reasons Justice Gerard La Forrest wrote, “I do not think our constitutional standards can be imposed on other countries.” The majority found that the charge would be in accordance with “traditional procedures” in Ohio. Finally, it found that “It is interesting that, as we saw, the United States Supreme Court has repeatedly held that successive prosecutions at the federal and state level do not automatically offend against the due process clause, the spirit and content of which bears some resemblance to s. 7 of the Charter, although the courts would act to prevent oppressive behavior.”
What the above case references provide is an example of the subjective interpretations to which I had previously referred, which would tend to indicate a tentativeness on the part of the Crown Attorney more than an absolute legal imperative.
To start, why wasn’t the Crown more proactive in pursuing the extradition of Melchert-Dinkel for his admitted role in the death of a young Canadian woman and, in the process, provide her family with an opportunity to sit in on the trial and face the accused in their own country. After all, the crime was committed against a Canadian, and violated our laws. In this instance I point to MP Albrecht’s belief, which likely reflects the majority of Canadian sentiments, that with even a modicum of ambition the Melchert-Dinkel proceedings should have been much further along than they are at present.
As I had also indicated earlier, the trial has yet to actually start as it appears that we are still at the motion stage, which includes an August 10, 2010 Motion for Rule 20.02 Mental Examination submitted by Melchert-Dinkel’s attorney Terry A. Watkins.
Specifically, and pursuant to Rule 20.02, subd. 1, of the Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure, Watkins is seeking to “appoint a medical examiner and order that a medical examination be conducted on the Defendant, William Francis Melchert-Dinkel, to determine if, because of mental illness or deficiency, the Defendant at the time of the commission of the offense charged was laboring under such a defect of reason as not to know the nature of the act constituting the offense with which the Defendant is charged or that it was wrong.” In short an insanity plea.
While I will review the insanity plea in the next post, at this point it is worth noting that Minnesota adheres to the M’Naghten Rule, which places the burden of proof directly on the defendant relative to mental incapacity. This is not likely to fly for a number of reasons, but again I will cover this in greater detail next time.
As for the here and now, and citing the (Extradition of Ye Gon— F.Supp.2d —-, 2009 WL 1311495D.D.C.,2009.) and the reference to past tense, double jeopardy should not be a significant issue especially if Canada took a hard stand to bring to justice an accused predator and killer who harmed one of its own citizens.
While the Canada v. Schmidt,  1 S.C.R. 500 case is not as compelling as the double jeopardy provision for pursuing extradition, it nonetheless illustrates the subjective nature of the law, even within the international arena. After all, Schmidt faced two different charges for what amounts to the same crime. Perhaps the Crown might be inclined to investigate a charge of depraved indifference?
In short, if the Crown Attorney had demonstrated any gumption and pursued extradition right out of the gate, while maybe not a slam dunk, we would likely be following the trial here in Ottawa instead of placing our hope on a prosecutor in another country which is also home to the accused.
All this being said it is still not too late for the Crown to do the right thing. Let’s just hope that they read this, eat their Wheaties tomorrow morning and take action.
November 5th, 2010 – Melchert-Dinkel Insanity Plea Not Likely To Succeed (But Did He Counsel Children In Taking Their Own Lives?)
Defense counsel, Terry A. Watkins, moves this court, pursuant to Rule 20.02, subd. 1, of the Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure, to appoint a medical examiner and order that a medical examination be conducted on the Defendant, William Francis Melchert-Dinkel, to determine if, because of mental illness or deficiency, the Defendant at the time of the commission of the offense charged was laboring under such a defect as not to know the nature of the act constituting the offense with which the Defendant is charged or that it was wrong.
(Excerpt of Motion filed on behalf of William Melchert-Dinkel by attorney Terry A. Watkins relating to Rice County Court File No. 66-CR-10-1193)
Given the litany of motions filed by attorney Terry A. Watkins relating to the case that is presently before the courts in Rice County, Minnesota in which his client, the Serial Suicide Killer, faces two counts of violating 609.215 subd. 1, Suicide – Aiding in relation to the deaths of Canadian Nadia Kajouji and Mark Drybrough – formerly of Coventry in the UK, receiving zealous representation is certainly not an issue.
Watkins of course has thrown everything but the proverbial kitchen sink at the Minnesota courts by way of motions which include;
- Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Probable Cause
- Motion to Suppress Confessions, Admissions, or Statements in the Nature of Confessions Made by Defendant
- Motion to Suppress Evidence Discovered as a Result of Confessions, Admissions, or Statements in the Nature of Confessions Made by Defendant (you have to love the “fruit of the poisonous tree” concept)
- Demand for Hearing Pursuant to Rule 8.03 of the Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure
- Motion to Dismiss for Vagueness and Over breath of Minn. Stat. 609.215, as applied to Defendant’s conduct
- Motion to Dismiss for Violations of Free Speech Protections
- Affidavit of Service
At the end of the day, and despite all the posturing, it now appears that the case is going to come down to the following:
“Pursuant to Rule 9.02, subd. 1(3)(a), of Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure, Defendant hereby notifies prosecuting attorney of his intention to assert a defense of mental illness or mental deficiency his intention to additionally rely upon the defense of not guilty.”
Ahh, the cherry on top of a cake of misdirection and avoidance of personal responsibility for his actions leading to the deaths of two people, one a young 18 year old university student with her whole life in front of her. When in doubt, pull an old standby out of the legal defense hat . . . I was crazy and did not know what I was doing.
Am I the only one experiencing a deja vu moment relating to Flip Wilson’s Geraldine character proclaiming that “the devil made me do it!”
As it stands, the intrepid Mr. Watkins faces what appears to be two daunting challenges or obstacles in relation to a defense of mental defect.
Right out of the gate is the fact that the State of Minnesota adheres to the M’Naghten rule in determining a defendant’s sanity.
For those who may not be familiar with the M’Naghten rule, it clearly states that, “Every man is to be presumed to be sane, and . . . that to establish a defense on the ground of insanity, it must be clearly proved that, at the time of the committing of the act, the party ACCUSED was laboring under such a defect of reason, from disease of mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing; or if he did know it, that he did not know he was doing what was wrong. “
In essence, the burden of proof relative to an insanity plea falls squarely on the shoulders of the defendant – in this case Melchert-Dinkel.
This leads directly into the second and likely most damning piece of evidence in terms of refuting a claim that Melchert-Dinkel “was laboring under such a defect of reason, from disease of mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing; or if he did know it, that he did not know he was doing what was wrong” as it relates to satisfying the terms of legal insanity under the M’Naghten rule.
Specifically, pages 3 and 4 of the Criminal Complaint filed by the State of Minnesota in which the following is stated:
“Mr. Melchert-Dinkel did state that he thought assisting suicide was illegal, and that it was illegal in Minnesota. He agreed to allow officers to search his home and signed a waiver agreeing to the search of his computer. He admitted to entering into 10 to 11 suicide pacts online with individuals all over the world. He admitted he moved from advising suicides to encouraging suicide. He stated age and circumstances would determine whether or not he discussed suicide methods or encouraged suicide. He explained suicide pacts were made with those “most intense” on committing suicide. He noted others on line would catch on to the suicide encouragement and would post warnings. The warnings would be posted messages such as, Watch out, Li Dao is out to encourage people to die rather than help.” He again estimated he most likely encouraged dozens of persons to commit suicide and characterized it as the thrill of the chase. He could not be certain as to the numbers because the successful suicide was hard to verify and that there could be dozens, which he found to be a scary thought. He stated he only encouraged suicide and never told anyone to do it, but told them it was up to them. He admitted there have been cases where people he counselled to commit suicide have died and he encouraged them by telling them it was ok to let go, that they would be better in heaven, and that his caring nature went too far.”
No wonder his attorney Watkins has filed motions “to Suppress Confessions, Admissions, or Statements in the Nature of Confessions Made by Defendant” and “to Suppress Evidence Discovered as a Result of Confessions, Admissions, or Statements in the Nature of Confessions Made by Defendant (the “fruit of the poisonous tree” concept).”
Based on his own statements, it certainly seems to me that Melchert-Dinkel not only possessed the mental capacity to understand that his actions were illegal but, that he also understood the moral implications associated with his role in the “thrill of the chase” encouragement that he provided to his victims. This awakening was demonstrated by an earlier statement he gave to police that is referenced in the complaint in which he indicates that “he stopped the contacts and discussions after the holidays (referring to Christmas of 2008) due to moral, ethical and legal reasons.”
By the way, did you pick-up on his comment that “age and circumstances would determine whether or not he discussed suicide methods or encouraged suicide?” I have to admit that a chill ran up the back of my neck because who’s to say that he did not come into contact with teenagers (children) who were under the age of majority. After all, didn’t he lie about his identity – which provides further proof that he clearly knew what he was doing was wrong.
The possibility alone that he engaged children on-line should at minimum spark debate as to whether or not Melchert-Dinkel is also a child predator, and thus should fall under the jurisdiction of the all-encompassing laws which exist to protect children. The fact that in the State’s complaint he admitted that “his (teenage) daughters had seen his discussions on the Internet and he had told them that his discussions were not right,” would seem to provide indisputable proof that he was interacting in some way either directly or indirectly with children.
What if one of the uncertain numbers to which he referred who may have committed suicide at his prompting, was a child of 15 or 16? Doesn’t this change the case considerably? Maybe the prosecution should investigate this possibility more closely? Maybe Melchert-Dinkel should save the State and the people, including the families of his victims the pain of a trial and plea bargain? It might make a good deal of sense from the defense standpoint because if it can be proven that he directly engaged with children over the Internet and, in a worse-case scenario one of these children committed suicide, then he would likely be facing a far stiffer penalty.
Just as a side note, I have always believed that one should give serious pause when an answer to a question that wasn’t specifically asked is offered. The police as far as I know did not ask Melchert-Dinkel about the ages of the people with whom he was engaged over the Internet, yet he chose to freely offer that “age and circumstances” were a factor in his actions?
All this being said, and focusing again of the submission of an insanity plea, I am of the same mind as criminal profiler Pat Brown who contends that “Serial killers premeditate their homicides and work to cover up their acts clearly showing an understanding that he knows his actions are illegal.”
Based on the evidence provided, William Melchert-Dinkel clearly knew what he was doing, enjoyed what he was doing re his “thrill of the chase” comment and, understood that it was wrong from both a legal and moral standpoint.
Case closed . . . maybe? Next week I will review in detail the motions filed by the defense to suppress the Serial Suicide Killer’s confession and resulting evidence. Is there in fact a legal loophole through which Melchert-Dinkel can escape justice and the consequences of his actions?
November 9th, 2010 – PI News Special: Melchert-Dinkel Counselled and then Watched via Webcam as 16 Year Old Girl Cut Herself
Why are you here? Are you listening?
Can you hear what I am saying?
I am not here, I’m not listening
I’m in my head and I’m spinning
Lyrics from the song Fallen by Jared Leto
The gravity of the actions of Serial Suicide Killer William Melchert-Dinkel took both a perverse and frightening turn as I was able to confirm that he did indeed engage with minors over the Internet, counselling them on how to take their own lives.
One of what is believed to potentially be many cases in which the Serial Suicide Killer stalked children to satiate his need for what he referred to as “the thrill of the chase,” involves a 16 year old girl from the Netherlands who used the screen name fallenfall in her exchanges with Melchert-Dinkel.
According to sources, Melchert-Dinkel spoke with the young girl about cutting herself, and then watched her do so via her web cam. The girl thankfully survived the ordeal.
While I am following up on additional leads of other cases where the predator “knowingly” spoke with minors, one of the most difficult elements of this revelation is that the young victims who have survived are not willing to come forward and make their activities known to the authorities.
Conversely, those who didn’t survive their encounter with Melchert-Dinkel have, in the majority of instances, been classified by police as being a suicide with their case being closed without further investigation.
The tragedy here as one person told me is that it is so “sad that people are dying; our children are dying, and no one – not even the police, want to look at why.” Lamenting the fact that for “every person who dies needlessly, there is a reason why,” it is clear that predators like Melchert-Dinkel will continue to operate freely within the relative safety of the virtual world, hunting those amongst us that are the most vulnerable . . . including our children.
Even though we may be inclined to place the burden for protecting the public from the destructive force of a faceless monster on the shoulders of the authorities, in reality parents and family members are the first and most important lines of defense. While this will not necessarily eliminate the danger all together, it will make it more difficult for intruders to gain access to our children and possibly lead them down a tragic path of no return.
In this regard, and given the insidious manner through which killers can easily gain access to our homes by taking advantage of the fact that parents have been lulled into a false sense of security through the absence of a physical danger, means that we must all become more vigilant in terms of understanding and even moderating our children’s on-line activities.
In the meantime, law enforcement and legislators also need to do their part by viewing the problem of Internet predators through a new, expanded lens that is commensurate with the opinions expressed by NCR Distinguished Professor of Law and Technology, Susan Brenner. According to Brenner, “we should not simply assume criminal conduct vectored through cyberspace represents an entirely new phenomenon, i.e. cybercrime,” as it may represent “nothing more than the perpetrators’ using cyberspace to engage in conduct that has long been outlawed.”
While some may argue that charging Melchert-Dinkel with a crime relative to counselling adults to commit suicide over the Internet is a possible violation of his right to free speech (and an adult’s right to die), the response to recent PI Window Survey’s and Polls clearly indicate that this same argument does not apply in those instances in which a child has received similar counsel from the Serial Suicide Killer.
In short, and according to the law, minors are not viewed has having the prerequisite understanding of the consequences of their actions and are considered to be more vulnerable than adults, thereby requiring greater protection. Encouraging a girl to cut herself and then watching her do so via a webcam is repugnant beyond comprehension. Doing nothing about it is inexcusable!
To borrow a Sean Connery line from the movie The Untouchables . . . “what are you prepared to do?”
November 10th, 2010 – PI Window Breaking News Exclusive: Nadia Kajouji’s Mother’s Reaction to Judge’s Order a Mix of Relief and Urgency
In a major set-back to the defense, several motions filed by attorney Terry Watkins on behalf of the Serial Suicide Killer William Melchert-Dinkel, including the controversial contention that the “Defendant’s conduct constituted speech protected by the United States and Minnesota’s constitution,” was denied by the courts.
In his November 8th order (a copy of which can be viewed through our SlideShare Viewer below), Judge Thomas M. Neuville denied defense attorney Terry A. Watkins’ motions to dismiss all charges against Melchert-Dinkel which claimed that:
- Minnesota Stat. 609.215, subd. 1, is unconstitutionally vague under the United States and Minnesota Constitutions,
- the Defendant’s conduct constituted speech protected by the United States and Minnesota Constitutions,
- Count 1 of the charge in relation to the death of Mark Drybrough due to lack of probable cause,
- Count 2 of the charge in relation to the death of Nadia Kajouji due to lack of probable cause.
A 5th motion filed by Watkins requesting that Melchert-Dinkel’s statements to the police during a January 7th, 2009 interview at the Defendant’s home in Faribault, Minnesota, and the evidence obtained as a result of said statements be suppressed, was withdrawn and therefore granted by Judge Neuville in his order.
A hearing has been scheduled for November 19th, 2010 at which time the court will accept Melchert-Dinkel’s waiver to suppress his statements to police, as well as receive the Defendant’s plea regarding the charges that were originally filed earlier this year on April 23rd.
While I will provide a more detailed breakdown of Judge Neuville’s order in my regular Friday post, in explaining his decision to deny the defense’s motion regarding free speech, several cases were cited in the order including references to State v. Williams, 759 N.W.2d 438,443 (Minn. 2009) in which the State meets the burden that in aiding and abetting another person to commit suicide, the accused is liable if said speech “encouraged the principal to take a course of action which he might not otherwise have taken.” This includes a “defendant who takes no steps to thwart its completion” re State v. Russell, 503 N.W.2d 110, 114 (Minn.1993).
Basically, Judge Neuville found that “the encouragement of a principal to take a course of action he might not otherwise have taken can be accomplished through speech.” This is an important decision in that speech is the primary “weapon” within the virtual realms of the Internet.
In recognizing speech as a tangible element in the violation of Minnesota’s assisted suicide statute, Judge Neuville did not accept the defense’s contention that given the similarities between Minnesota’s and California’s anti-suicide statutes, and the latter’s specific reference to the necessary presence of physical elements associated with aiding and abetting a principal in taking his or her own life through “furnishing the means for bringing about death – the gun, the knife, the poison, or providing the water” provided for in Ryan N., 92 Cal. App. 4th 1359, 1374 (Cal. 1st Dist. Div. 3 Ct. App. 2002), the Judge referenced Minnesota Statute 609.05 which states that “a person is criminally liable for a crime committed by another if the person intentionally aids, advises, hires, counsels, or conspires with or otherwise procures the other to commit a crime.
Specifically, and in his ruling that the State met its burden re the question of Governance of Speech, “both the assisted suicide and aiding and abetting statutes require an element of intent that the respective suicide or crime takes place and an intentional act on behalf of the defendant in furtherance of that goal.” The order went on to state that “if the intent elements are met, acts to encourage, aid, or assist in the suicide or crime can be accomplished through speech.” In short the pen, or in this case virtual words, is indeed mightier than the sword.
In a PI Window breaking news exclusive, Deborah Chevalier who is the mother of Melchert-Dinkel victim Nadia Kajouji, had this to say about the decision in Minnesota:
“Although I’ve not yet had much of a chance to formulate my thoughts regarding today’s ruling, mostly I’d have to say that I feel relieved.”
Ms. Chevalier then stated that “now finally we can move forward again, get his plea, and go to trial. I’m looking forward to a conviction. It’s difficult that things move so slowly; even more difficult when they seem to be stalled.”
Taking a broader view of the proceedings south of the border, Ms. Chevalier then added, “this is a precedent that desperately needs to be set,” and that “this is not merely seeking justice for William Melchert-Dinkel’s victims.”
According to Ms. Chevalier, a conviction “will also send a message to other Internet predators and others who would use free speech as an excuse to bully and prey upon others.” It is her hope that “right now we are laying the groundwork that will enable us to prevent future tragedies,” and that if we succeed “perhaps police will be less hesitant to investigate and lay charges.”
While the motion for a mental evaluation of Meclhert-Dinkel pursuant to Rule 20.02 discussed in my November 5th post “Melchert-Dinkel Insanity Plea Not Likely To Succeed (But Did He Counsel Children In Taking Their Own Lives?)” was granted (note: the evaluation report is now in the hands of the concerned parties), meaning that the insanity plea is still on the table to be addressed by the courts, this latest decision by Judge Neuville removes what was at one point considered to be the major obstacle to conviction.
November 18th, 2010 – Is an insanity plea the only remaining option in Serial Suicide Killer’s efforts to avoid prison?
“However and here is where there is considerable gray area, the law according to Wehrwein “doesn’t specifically address situations involving communication via the Internet.” This as it turns out is the basis upon which some legal experts (including Melchert-Dinkel’s lawyer Terry Watkins) have suggested that freedom of speech issues could play a role in the case.”
(Opening paragraph from August 26th, 2010 post “Cyber War and the Emergence of the Borderless Criminal: Why the Melchert-Dinkel Serial Killer Case Should Be a Slam Dunk . . . For the Prosecution“)
Despite the legal posturing in which everything from a violation of his First Amendment right regarding free speech, to the apparent vagueness of Minnesota’s assisted suicide law being thrown at the courts by William Merlchert-Dinkel’s attorney Terry A. Watkins, it has all boiled down to what is tantamount to the equivalent of a Hail Mary pass in football . . . an insanity plea.
As outlined in my November 5th post “Melchert-Dinkel Insanity Plea Not Likely To Succeed (But Did He Counsel Children In Taking Their Own Lives?),” there are numerous reasons why the insanity plea is unlikely to be successful. And even though I can hear my grandmother’s admonishment that one should never count their chickens before they hatch, I wanted to examine the far-ranging consequences of a conviction including its impact in terms of establishing legal precedence within the virtual realms of the Internet and, the lingering effect it will likely have on the right to die and assisted suicide laws both domestically as well as globally.
As a result, the PI Window will be airing a 60 minute special on Wednesday, December 15th at 8:00 PM EST in which I will be joined by a guest panel that will include NCR Distinguished Professor of Law and Technology, Susan Brenner.
Brenner, whose insights on bridging the apparent gaps between crimes committed in both the physical and virtual worlds are well known, contends that “we should not simply assume criminal conduct vectored through cyberspace represents an entirely new phenomenon, i.e. cybercrime,” as it may represent “nothing more than the perpetrators’ using cyberspace to engage in conduct that has long been outlawed.”
Within the context of the above statement, during the segment we will peel back the layers of what are the seemingly contradictory elements of a complex case and assess the impact that a conviction (or acquittal) will have on our laws and personal rights and freedoms.
November 26th, 2010 – A “Shattered Family” – Melchert-Dinkel’s Forgotten Victims?
Thank you for putting into words what I believe to be so true. He lives in the town I live in and it is a disgrace. My children went to school with his kids and they are paying for it. I hope the best for the kids. He needs to be in prison. He is a danger to society.
(Comment by Lisa (RE Nov. 9th post PI News Special: Melchert-Dinkel Counselled and then Watched via Webcam as 16 Year Old Girl Cut herself))
By all indications, both Mari and Molly Melchert-Dinkel appear to be typical teenagers growing up in small town U.S.A.
From being active in sports such as baseball and volleyball, making the local high school’s Grade 9 Honor Roll and sharing the normal angst-filled musings associated with the awkward years between childhood and adulthood on a favored social networking site, one would be hard pressed to distinguish William Melchert-Dinkel’s daughters from any other Faribault, Minnesota teenager.
Unfortunately, and in line with their mother Joyce Melchert-Dinkel’s tearful lament that upon being made aware of her husband’s actions “Our family was shattered that night,” the two young girls are existing in a world that is anything but normal.
While we cannot lose sight of the significant and lasting damage that Melchert-Dinkel’s quest to satiate his perverted obsession with death and suicide has inflicted on the families of Nadia Kajouji and Mark Drybrough, it is also important to recognize the fact that the consequences of his ruinous conduct were also reflected back on his own family, and in particular his daughters.
This was of course a sentiment expressed by Faribault resident Lisa Hullett in her comment regarding my November 9th post, and one that I am certain is shared by the majority of people who have been following this story.
Looking beyond the emotional impact, what can a child do under such unusual and trying circumstances? Especially when given the natural inclination to look to a parent for comfort and reassurance, only to discover that the parent is actually the source of their pain and embarrassment.
In the March 30th, 2007 article “Son of a Serial Killer: Exclusive Interview with John Gore, Son of Convicted Murderer David Gore” the son of the former sheriff’s deputy in Indian River County, who was convicted for 6 murders (although authorities suspect that the number could be as high a 50), was asked “what kind of advice would you give to people or children who are going through what you have, who are dealing with either dads or moms who have committed these type of crimes, to help them get by?”
In a response that may be as much defiant posturing as it is a frank reflection of his true feelings, John Gore said that he “would tell them to listen to themselves, don’t listen to what others tell them. If someone is telling you to hate them; don’t, make your own judgment. Don’t just not hate them don’t hate anyone when someone tells you to, or because someone else wants you to. I think you have to do what you want to do in this situation. That’s what makes a person unique is being able to have that choice.”
Without a doubt all children as they enter their teen years seek to carve out their own unique place in the world that is separate from that of their parents’ world, while still reconciling themselves to the values of life they witnessed and were taught during their formative years.
In the case of John Gore, the fact that he was by his own words very young when his father’s crimes came to public light may to a certain degree have helped to shelter him, but living in a small town nonetheless presented numerous challenges. “It was pretty hard everywhere I went when people found out my last name was Gore people knew exactly who I was and exactly what my family’s history was,” the younger Gore recounted to the interviewer. “It basically continued on with me,” making reference to the fact that local police kept a close watch on both he and his brother’s movements as the town was “hell-bent that this would never happen again,” and that “they were willing to do almost anything to keep it from happening again.”
Even though the crimes committed by David Gore involved local victims, as opposed to the victims of Melchert-Dinkel who lived far way – in one case across the Atlantic, I would doubt that the trauma and subsequent scrutiny is any less invasive and hurtful. Perhaps in some ways, it is even more challenging in that this case is playing itself out on a global stage for many reasons including the fact that the ultimate verdict will have far reaching consequences in how we view crimes committed over the Internet.
In some instances, such as in the case of the daughter of Keith Hunter Jesperson who is known as the infamous “Happy Face” serial killer, separation by becoming “something other than my father’s daughter” meant focusing on how she could make herself “a better person.”
As told in the Melissa G. Moore book “Shattered Silence: The Untold Story of a Serial Killer’s Daughter,” Jesperson’s 15 year-old daughter was “consumed with guilt and shame for his horrific actions,” and for years, would “have nightmares of him showing up at her door.”
A big reason for her ability to finally escape the shadow of such a notorious father is that she learned to move on by choosing instead to concentrate “on being a wife and mother.” This meant that she had to stop “wasting precious energy thinking about my father” as she realized that she “had no control over what he did,” and “that there was nothing she could do to change it.”
Even though she dreads the day “when I have to tell my children about their grandfather,” she is no longer haunted by her own past indicating that she has learned that we are not a product of our circumstances in life, but are instead free to decide our own future.
Besides knowing that they are not alone in their experience, these are perhaps valuable lessons through which both Mari and Molly Melchert-Dinkel can find some degree of immediate peace and eventually longer term reconciliation with the unimaginable actions of a parent.
November 30th, 2010 – Is Suicide Really Painless on the Internet . . .
“But in the meantime I want to warn youngsters about the possible dangers these websites can pose.
“I would also like to warn parents to be actively on the alert for signs of their children being influenced by others on these sites.”
(Comments by Coroner Phillip Walters, from January 2008 Mail Online Story “Coroner launches probe into ‘internet suicide cult’ after SEVEN youngsters in one town hang themselves”)
While the legal system attempts to reconcile existing laws with criminal activity that is vectored through cyberspace, the pending trial of The Serial Suicide Killer William Melchert-Dinkel represents the first consolidation of awareness of a problem that has been brewing beneath the virtual surface for some time.
In fact, it would appear that the absence of physical interaction provided through suicide chat rooms and forums delivers for many the final push to do something that they would have unlikely been able to do outside of the isolation and anonymity of the Internet.
At least this would appear to be the case according to members of one suicide forum who say that “discussing their suicidal inclinations online is much easier than in real life.”
In the June 8th, 2003 (that’s right 2003) article “A Virtual Path To Suicide,” which talked about how 19 year old Suzy Gonzales took her life by drinking a cyanide cocktail, the young Florida State University student provided some insight into the manner in which these chat rooms are alluringly effective at muting the consequences of such a drastic course of action.
“When online, I am calm and collected,” Gonzales wrote 10 days before her death but, “give me a couple of seconds of talking about (suicide) in person and it’s the same as with the suicide hotline.” “I get shaky and start crying. And then I just feel silly — Basically, I just need a friend who will understand me.”
A friend and understanding is something we all need throughout our life, however a friend does not push you off the precipice of an irreversible decision with eternal consequences.
While Andrew Beals, the founder of the group that “counselled” Gonzales, expressed his continuing belief that suicide is a “valid way to end depression and terminal illness,” he also cautioned that online forums such as the one he started in 1990 “wasn’t intended to be a fly trap for the suicidal.”
In a kind of ironic twist Beals, who dropped out of his own group a couple of years later after finding new meaning in life when he “got a divorce, got happier and got a dog,” leads one to ask the question why weren’t Suzy Gonzales and more recently Mark Drybrough and Nadia Kajouji been afforded the same opportunity for an alternative path?
Like a mob cheering at a public hanging these chat rooms, which we discovered with Melchert-Dinkel, are nothing more than a means by which predators can satiate their desire for the thrill of the chase by pulling the emotional strings of those who are most vulnerable.
What is even more disconcerting as highlighted in the 2008 Mail Online story is that these forums can actually take on a “cult-like” appeal that “romanticizes” teenage death.
Nowhere was this alarm sounded louder than it was in the town of Bridgend, where it was reported that seven youngsters aged 17 to 27 had hung themselves in a one year period. All had apparently belonged to the same Bebo and MySpace website – although no social network is immune – which led the town’s Coroner Phillip Walters to issue the ominous warning as he began his initial investigation into the deaths and the role that these Internet communities played in the spate of suicides.
In the end, the virtual realms of the Internet are disconcertingly invasive and powerfully influential in that they lack the physical attributes that can alert parents or family members and friends to the possibility that trouble is brewing on the near horizon. For example, if someone begins to hang out with the wrong crowd, a parent can actually see this happening and have an opportunity to intervene.
However, within the obfuscated virtual reality of a teenager’s bedroom, where the openness of cyberspace belies the supposed safety that is one’s home, and where predators like Melkchert-Dinkel freely move about, the consequences of Internet-inspired suicide eventually and painfully collides with the real world.
December 30th, 2010 – Don’t Say A Word: By Their Silence Are Psychiatrists, Police and the Newspapers Responsible for Helping to Create the Suicide Chat Rooms Frequented by Predators like Melchert-Dinkel?
Psychiatrists, police and editors cite the contagion effect as the principal reason to not report suicides. The theory is that extensive coverage of one suicide triggers other suicides, spreading like a virus. After Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther, a novel about a man who shoots himself over a doomed love affair, came out in 1774, there was a reported increase in young men shooting themselves. That’s why some people refer to the contagion, or copycat, effect as the Werther Effect.
(Opening paragraph from Suicide Notes by Liam Casey, Ryerson Review of Journalism December 22nd, 2010)
As both an author and a radio host I always try to give every topic I cover in both electronic print as well as over the virtual airwaves the respect it is due through thorough research and a balanced and objective approach to the many sides of what are often controversial stories.
My reasoning is that even though I cannot truly experience the first hand emotions and perspectives of my guests who are the ones that have actually lived the story, I can at least provide a unique lens through which my audience can view and hopefully come to understand the circumstances of a given situation in the context of their own lives. This contextual reference point I believe is essential to establishing a common ground that leads to greater insight and where possible answers.
Of course, and as is often the case, definitive answers are elusive. The circumstances surrounding the pending trial of William Melchert-Dinkel, the Serial Suicide Killer as I have come to call him, is one such example in that it represents the convergence of many contradictory elements including the differences between what is considered a criminal act in the physical world versus one that is “vectored” as my most recent guest Susan Brenner so eloquently put it “through cyber space.”
(Note: the segment titled “Cybercrime, Insanity Pleas and the Right to Die: A Guest Panel Discussion” in which Professor Brenner was a guest panellist, also included TV’s Cop Doc Dr. Richard Weinblatt.)
Looking beyond the crime committed in the physical and virtual worlds debate, the uneven interpretation of laws pertaining to one’s right to die and assisted suicide alone seems to provide Melchert-Dinkel’s defense attorney with what many believe will be a solid foundation for appealing a conviction should that be the outcome of the trial – which by the way is scheduled to start in February or March of the new year. In fact, and as intimated by Dr. Weinblatt during our December 15th segment, trials of this nature are often driven by public sentiments versus tangible legal principles and therefore the likelihood of an appeal and an eventual overturning of a guilty verdict is a distinct possibility.
It is hard to argue with The Cop Doc’s point of view, when you consider the fact that if Melchert-Dinkel had been a resident of Oregon when he sought to satiate his “thrill of the chase” desires through encouraging what he viewed as vulnerable prey to commit suicide, he would not have been charged, as assisted suicide is not illegal in that state. It is both an interesting and ironic full-circle legal conundrum that physical geography could have and still might influence a trial’s outcome regarding actions committed in a non-physical realm.
However thought-provoking the legal aspects of this complex case might be, in the end I still believe that this story comes down to fellow human beings who for whatever reason are experiencing real emotional turmoil and are thus vulnerable to predators like Melchert-Dinkel. What is even more disconcerting is how the obfuscated chat rooms of predatory pursuit in which even a minor such as the one Melchert-Dinkel talked into repeatedly cutting herself while he watched via webcam, could exist and flourish in the first place.
It is in this vein that Liam Casey’s December 22nd, 2010 article in the Ryerson Review of Journalism delivers the greatest impact. Especially given the writer’s account of his own personal battle with depression and the temptation to end it all, as well as his expressed dismay with the authorities, including the media and mental health professions reluctance to report and discuss the subject of suicide in the open and scrutinizing light of a legitimate public forum.
Casey’s revelations are both timely and uniquely discerning as he is someone who has walked in the proverbial shoes of the Mark Drybroughs and Nadia Kajoujis, providing us with a two-way lens on a subject that the majority of us will hopefully and prayerfully never know on such an intimate and first-hand basis.
As a result, his observations that “Suicide avoidance is a throwback to journalism’s dark days, a time when editors and news producers could choose to ignore unpleasant matters,” is noteworthy, as is his contention that “the industry can no longer justify failing to cover a tragedy that will affect so many people, in one way or another, at some time in their lives.” The statistics he cites in support of his latter statement is startling as I would count myself amongst the 83 percent of Canadians who responded to an August 2010 Harris-Decima poll who were unaware that “suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in Canada and the second leading cause of death for people 15 to 24.” In short, this is not a problem that is going to go away by itself and as a result it needs to be responsibly and sensitively discussed out in the open.
Unfortunately, and as Casey reveals in his article, “psychiatrists, police and editors cite the contagion effect as the principal reason to not report suicides,” and therefore inadvertently push the issue to the darker recesses of shame and ultimately the sub-culture world of Internet suicide chat rooms where death is an honorable solution romanticized in songs like Blue Oyster Cults “Don’t Fear The Reaper.”
Valentine is done
Here but now they’re gone
Romeo and Juliet
Are together in eternity…Romeo and Juliet
40,000 men and women everyday…Like Romeo and Juliet
40,000 men and women everyday…Redefine happiness
Another 40,000 coming everyday…We can be like they are
Come on baby…don’t fear the reaper
Baby take my hand…don’t fear the reaper
We’ll be able to fly…don’t fear the reaper
Baby I’m your man…
While it should be noted that Donald Roeser, who both wrote and did the lead vocals for the song stated that he “was actually kind of appalled when I first realized that some people were seeing it as an advertisement for suicide or something that was not my intention at all,” this alluring tune still resonates with many (long after its original release in 1976), having sold approximately 922,000 digital copies to date.
While I do not want to turn this post into a discussion about artistic freedom, the point I am making is simply this . . . in the absence of societal involvement and intervention by what means are those who are most vulnerable in society engaged and by what agendas are they being influenced?
Melchert-Dinkel’s reference in an e-mail to the fact that there are others like him, and that they have found a way to commit “legal murder,” should send a collectively chilling wake up call to all of us that by continuing to avoid meaningful discussion regarding suicide, we are to a certain extent creating the dark alleyways of abandonment where more people will unnecessarily lose their lives.
As the public health reporter with The Globe and Mail André Picard, to whom Casey referred in his article, expressed his belief that by “talking more openly about mental illness we can prevent suicides,” the words of 19 year old Suzy Gonzales, who took her life by drinking a cyanide cocktail, takes on an even stronger resonance. Specifically, how “chat rooms are alluringly effective at muting the consequences” of taking such a drastic course of action as reflected in the following excerpt from my November 30th post Is Suicide really Painless On The Internet:
“When online, I am calm and collected,” Gonzales wrote 10 days before her death but, “give me a couple of seconds of talking about (suicide) in person and it’s the same as with the suicide hotline.” “I get shaky and start crying. And then I just feel silly — Basically, I just need a friend who will understand me.”
Whether the Gonzales story is a reflection of our society’s discomfort with or indifference towards the subject of suicide, or a testimony to the despicable natures of the darker elements in our world, and the havoc they can wreak if left unchecked and unchallenged, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that we take our collective heads out of the sand and realize that with the advent of the Internet, there is no safe place in the realms of the physical world because of its pervasive and at time insidious silent entry into our homes and the bedrooms of our children. You only have to think of the young girl who at Melchert-Dinkel’s prompting repeatedly cut herself to realize the extent and powerful reach of these new age predators.
The only question that needs to be answered is simply this . . . what are we prepared to do about it now?
January 11th, 2011 – Are the differences between a right to die choice and a victim of murder too subtle for the courts to differentiate between the two?
“The cases highlight the confusion surrounding the legal tests for murder, assisted suicide and euthanasia. Campaigners argue there should be clear guidance on how prosecutors should respond to cases where a competent adult requests help to die, and where relatives inflict death without the clear wishes of their loved ones. “The law needs to protect potentially vulnerable people by being tough on malicious or irresponsible behaviour, but it also needs to be flexible enough to show mercy when the motivation is clearly compassion”, said Sarah Wootton, chief executive of campaign group Dignity in Dying.”
(Opening paragraph from the article Kay Gilderdale case: A clear verdict on the law’s confusion on assisted suicide by Afua Hirsch, Guardian.co.uk Jan. 25th, 2010)
On April 11th, 2011 the WilliamMelchert-Dinkel trial in which the former Minnesota nurse stands accused of violating Minnesota’s assisted suicide law in the deaths of Canadian Nadia Kajouji and UK resident Mark Drybrough will finally begin.
While we will once again welcome our panel of experts including NCR Distinguished Professor of Law and Technology Susan Brenner, TV’s Cop Doc Dr. Richard Weinblatt and criminal profiler Pat Brown to discuss what we might expect from the trial in a 90 minute Special on April 10th at 8:30 PM EST, there is one thing that is certain . . . the uncertainty surrounding assisted suicide laws and how the jury will ultimately respond to the evidence that is presented in the Rice County courtroom.
Never one to sit idly by and wait for information, I thought that I would dig even deeper into my research notes to see if there was any way to determine if there was legal history or precedence that could be used as a reference point relative to a possible verdict under circumstances similar to the pending Melchert-Dinkel adjudication. Ignoring the fact for the time being that the crimes for which the defendant has been accused occurred over the Internet, I wanted to examine the potential boundaries between a person’s right to die and the potential risks posed by predators who with seeming alacrity troll the suicide chat rooms for vulnerable individuals or victims. I use the word victims in the context of someone who, without the intervening prompting of another individual, would not otherwise have chosen to commit suicide.
Unfortunately, instead of finding answers I found more questions as demonstrated by the different verdicts referenced in the Guardian article.
In the Kay Gilderdale case, in which the presiding judge asked “why did this come to court?” the jury cleared the accused of murder resulting in Gilderdale being given a 12 month conditional discharge. Conversely Frances Inglis, the mother who injected a lethal dose of heroin into her son, was found guilty and subsequently sentenced to 9 years in prison.
The key difference between the two cases according to legal experts is that with Gilderdale her daughter gave clear indications of her intent to die as a result of a previous suicide attempt and the execution of what was referred to as an “advance decision” or living will in which a person that is ill can stipulate that they do not want to “receive life-sustaining treatment in advance.” No such intentions were demonstrated by Inglis’ son.
It seems to be straight forward however, and in line with a comment made by Professor Brenner during our December 15th segment Cybercrime, Insanity Pleas and the Right to Die: A Guest Panel Discussion she posed the question, if the people who committed suicide at the urging of Melchert-Dinkel did not intend to take their lives, then why did they visit the chat rooms in the first place. In short, does ones presence and/or participation within the virtual realms of a suicide chat room sufficiently indicate the prerequisite intent associated with the Gilderdale trial? If it does, should Melchert-Dinkel be acquitted?
Many would of course argue (and yes I would be one of them) that neither Nadia Kajouji nor Mark Drybrough are on trial here, only Melchert-Dinkel. When one reads his ready acknowledgment that he pursued these individuals in a “thrill of the chase” frenzy that was so compelling that he had to – and again in his own words – check himself into a local hospital complaining of an “addiction” to suicide chat rooms, it is more than reasonable to view his actions as being malicious and predatory. His references that others on the Internet had found a way to “commit legal murder” do little to assuage this position.
As stipulated on many occasions, I myself am not a lawyer and for this reason the April 10th segment with our expert panel promises to be a very interesting and lively discussion. Be sure to tune in as we will be opening both the chat room and toll free lines for you to weigh in on this complex and emotionally charged trial.
January 23rd, 2011 – A Plea for Justice in the Melchert-Dinkel Case?
“[t]he process whereby the ACCUSED and the PROSECUTOR in a criminal case work out a mutually satisfactory DISPOSITION of the case subject to court approval. It usually involves the defendant’s pleading guilty to a lesser offense or to only one or some of the counts of a multi-count INDICTMENT in return for a lighter sentence than that possible for the graver charge.”
(The Definition of Plea Bargaining courtesy of The Encyclopaedia of Everyday Law)
According to the Encyclopaedia of Everyday Law, “more than 90 percent of criminal convictions come from negotiated pleas;” meaning that “less than ten percent of criminal cases go to trial.”
Now you might be asking why I would be writing about plea bargaining in relation to the Melchert-Dinkel case, given that the trial is scheduled to start on April 11th, 2010 in Rice County Minnesota. The answer is pretty simple . . . a Settlement Conference has been scheduled for February 17th.
According to court records, the purpose of this hearing is to attempt to settle the case before going to trial and make sure everything (motions) are taken care of before trial.
Besides judicial housekeeping relative to motions et al, the Settlement Conference is a normal part of any adjudication whether it be criminal as in the case of Melchert-Dinkel, or civil re one company suing another.
Regarding Melchert-Dinkel, if the defendant pleads guilty at this hearing, a Sentencing hearing date will be scheduled or the judge will sentence the defendant. Conversely, if the defendant continues to plead not guilty, the jury trial will begin on April 11, 2011.
For those unfamiliar with the legal process, the concept of a Settlement Conference can raise many disturbing questions, especially given the fact that plea bargaining has been maligned as being a vehicle for accelerating throughput versus dispensing justice in the American court system.
When faced with as complex a case as Melchert-Dinkel’s, the temptation for the Rice County DA to settle is likely significant as he would be able to avoid losing at trial and therefore having to respond to questions as to why he failed in what will undoubtedly be a very high profile trial. In short and as any lawyer will tell you nothing, regardless of the evidence, is a foregone conclusion when a case comes before a judge.
Another possible point of leverage that the defence is likely to use is that even if the DA wins the case, as Dr. Weinblatt pointed in our December 15th panel discussion (Cybercrime, Insanity Pleas and the Right to Die: A Guest Panel Discussion), many incendiary trials that are influenced by public sentiment versus the letter of the law so to speak can be overturned when a conviction is presented to a higher court on appeal.
On the defendant’s side of the fence, the uncertainty factor with going to trial swings both ways meaning that a conviction is still a conviction and there is no guarantee that a higher court will throw out the verdict.
This is why the possibility for a successful plea bargain generally speaking is so high. If Melchert-Dinkel’s lawyer and the Rice County DA are open to the possibility that the case can be settled without the time and expense of a lengthy trial, then the type of plea negotiation will come into play.
Referencing our ever handy Encyclopaedia of Everyday Law, plea bargaining involves three areas of negotiation; Charge Bargaining, Sentence Bargaining and Fact Bargaining.
With Charge Bargaining, the defendant pleads guilty to a lesser charge and thereby avoids having to stand trial on more serious charges. This is an interesting option in that one would be hard pressed to come up with a lesser charge that relates to Minnesota’s assisted suicide law, the violation of which is the basis for Melchert-Dinkel being brought to trial in the first place.
Sentence Bargaining would mean that Melchert-Dinkel would plead guilty as charged, and in return would receive a lighter sentence. Under Minnesota’s Suicide-Aiding law (609.215 subd. 1), if convicted Melchert-Dinkel would face a sentence of “Imprisonment of not more than 15 years or a fine of not more than $30,000 or both.”
It is anyone’s guess at this time as to what if any period of incarceration and/or fine would be acceptable to the defence, especially given the possibility of a guilty verdict and being subjected to the good sense of the presiding judge relative to sentencing.
The presiding judge in this case is Thomas M. Neuville who prior to be sworn in as Judge for the Rice County District Court on January 10th, 2008 was a member of the Minnesota Senate whose special legislative interests included crime and public safety, prisons, child support reform, courts and judicial selection, health care reform, family, cultural and life issues.
Born January 31st, 1950, Neuville is a member of the Republican Party of Minnesota and a father of 5 children, who is also a Catholic. Given his background especially his legislative interests I am not certain that I would want to be Melchert-Dinkel standing before him for sentencing after being convicted of violating the State’s Assisted Suicide law.
Finally, there is Fact Bargaining, where an admission to certain facts (“stipulating “to the truth and existence of provable facts, thereby eliminating the need for the prosecutor to have to prove them) in return for an agreement not to introduce certain other facts into evidence. Unlike the Charge and Sentence bargaining, Fact bargaining is the least used negotiation in plea arrangements, and quite frankly is not likely to in and of itself have a role in any discussions between the DA and defence counsel.
Whether this case ends up as the majority of criminal cases which are settled through the plea bargaining process, or by way of an actual trial verdict like OJ Simpson, Melchert-Dinkel has for all intents and purposes become a Pariah in his community meaning that the prospects for any kind of normal life is practically nil.
This is little comfort to the victims’ families as well as those who like myself, are angered at the defendant’s callous and self-gratifying actions. Perhaps the fact that he will ultimately have to answer to a higher authority one day means that justice will inevitably be delivered.
In the here and now however, we are manacled to a legal process that for better or for worse is still one of the best, if not the best, in the world. To some, this is where the buck stops!
February 6th, 2011 – Melchert-Dinkel removes the wild card factor from trial by opting for judge over jury
Jury trials are like “riding a ship into a storm,” because they are much less predictable than bench trials.
(The above is a quote from French criminal lawyer, university professor and politician Robert Badniter)
William Melchert-Dinkel’s decision to choose a judge to determine his guilt or innocence (otherwise known as a bench trial), over having his case heard before a jury of his own peers is a testimony to the fact that public sentiment is not likely to be sympathetic to his cause.
Add into the equation, and this is according to one legal expert, that sentences tend to be longer when a jury convicts, the decision to present his case before a judge would seem to be a prudent one. In short, there is little if any uncertainty given the nature of the crimes for which the former nurse from Faribault stands accused, that a jury conviction would be a very real possibility. Yes, it could be overturned on appeal to a higher court as jury’s such as in the case of OJ Simpson, on occasion demonstrate a propensity (at least more than a judge) to be influenced by circumstances as much as if not more than the technicalities of the law.
But is a bench trial really any more likely to render a favorable verdict in those cases where public sentiment is heavily in favor of a guilty verdict? It depends.
One thing is certain this opens up the door to any combination of variables whether Melchert-Dinkel is found to be guilty or innocent.
For starters, and unlike a guilty verdict being reached by a jury, if a judge finds you guilty, he or she has discretion when sentencing to suspend jail time. Interesting thought given the converging complexities of the Melchert-Dinkel case which include variables such as right to die legislation, freedom of speech and the differences between crimes in the physical versus virtual worlds.
In essence, a judge who is faced with an apparent conflict between the letter of the law and public sentiments might appease both (and in the process defer making new law to another trial in another jurisdiction), by finding Melchert-Dinkel guilty but suspending his sentence.
Once again the above is an exercise in pure, but nonetheless interesting, speculative musings. Over the next week, I will delve more deeply into the differences between a trial by jury and a bench trial focusing on the various elements of each one, and what they might mean in terms of either a guilty or innocent verdict in the Melchert-Dinkel trial.
February 16th, 2011 – Melchert-Dinkel Defense Attorney is Earning His Pay with Lothenbach Plea
What is The Lothenbach Plea?
Basically, it is where a defendant does not challenge the facts of a case and therefore allows them to be submitted to a judge without contention for adjudication. Based on said submission the judge will review, and then decide or render a verdict.
Here’s the thing, even if the judge finds the defendant guilty (which is likely in the Melchert-Dinkel case), the defendant can, without objection from the prosecuting attorney, take the case before the Appellate Court to challenge the denial of pre-trial motions which contend that the even with the acknowledgment of said facts, the case should not have come to trial in the first place.
In short, and with regard to Melchert-Dinkel, everything that the prosecution claims I did is true but . . . it doesn’t matter because the pre-trial motion requesting a dismissal of the case based on the violation of my right to Freedom of Speech in encouraging two (and more) people into taking their own lives, should have been granted.
It is the ultimate “I did it . . . so what claim,” that can only be accessible through a justice system that allows the technical aspects of the law to outweigh moral considerations. Or to put it another way, it has created yet another buffer which separates the actions of Melchert-Dinkel from the potential consequences associated with public outrage.
Adding insult to injury of course and, reflecting the sentiments expressed by esteemed law professor Susan Brenner during our December 16th broadcast, who had suggested that by hanging around suicide chat rooms the victims put themselves in harm’s way, Melchert-Dinkel’s lawyer Terry Watkins has argued that the victims were predisposed to committing suicide and his client didn’t sway them by making statements online.
While no one, not even the creative legal mind of Watkins, can honestly say what was or was not going through the minds of the people who ultimately took their lives, just because someone is standing on the ledge of a building does not mean that you have to cheer them on in terms of jumping.
Further to this point, even if someone is on a ledge it may be more of a cry for help than being an actual reflection of an intention to jump. Yes, both Mark Drybrough and Nadia Kajouji frequented the suicide chat rooms. It is also true that both talked about taking their own lives. However, and taking into account the value that we has a nation place on human life, unless you can read the hearts and minds of people with absolute certainty then maliciously encouraging and enticing people to take their lives to satisfy an obsessive “thrill of the chase” desire is morally reprehensible.
However, the law is not based solely on society’s moral sensibilities (although it should reflect them). Nor for that matter, has Melchert-Dinkel lawyer Watkin’s claimed that his client’s actions were morally honorable. The issue at hand is whether or not his client had the right to write what he did in the chat rooms, regardless of the consequences. It is upon this point of law that the Appellate Court will hear the case and ultimately decide Melchert-Dinkel’s future.
So what are these points of law that shadow or perhaps obfuscate social and/or moral responsibility, particularly as it relates to the contested pre-trial motions that were denied in the Melchert-Dinkel case?
Well, besides the right to free speech, one of the more pertinent reasons given for justifying the motion to dismiss is linked to the purported vagueness of Minnesota’s assisted suicide law.
In his May 27th, 2010 post on the Legal Match: Criminal Law blog, Rusty Shackleford writes “without a very clear and rigid definition of what it means to “encourage” suicide, the law under which this former nurse is being charged is almost certainly so vague as to be unconstitutional.”
Shackleford then makes the statement that “the constitution allows certain laws to be “void for vagueness” if they don’t put people on reasonable notice of what is and is not prohibited,” and that “due process requires that laws be written clearly enough that a reasonable person would have a good idea of what the law actually says.”
In the context of the above, here is an interesting question . . . to what degree should Melchert-Dinkel’s admission that he knew what he was doing was wrong and probably against the law be taken into consideration? Doesn’t this show prior knowledge as well as establishes the pre-requisite intent to find him guilty?
Even taking into account Shackleford’s post which admonishes the State “to choose their words more carefully next time” regarding the vagueness of the current wording of the assisted suicide law, should the accused get off solely on the basis of legislative wording? After all, aren’t Shackleford’s expressed issues with the apparent vagueness of the law tied to concerns that it doesn’t “put people on reasonable notice of what is and is not prohibited?”
Once again, and keeping in mind that said admission has also been challenged by Watkins via a pre-trial motion, the larger issue is can you or for that matter should you sift out the moral and legal recognition on the part of the defendant that what they were doing was wrong despite the purported vagueness of the law as it is written?
What about taking into account the possibility that in his profession as a nurse, Melchert-Dinkel would have had a greater awareness or sense of the law concerning such matters as assisted suicide? Shouldn’t his elevated awareness as a result of his being a health care professional also be considered?
Based on a May 15th, 2008 article “Does a therapist have to report me as suicidal if I tell her I self-injure?,” in which Dr. Mark Dombeck Ph.D. acknowledged the gray areas regarding the question posed by a reader, he nonetheless emphasized the fact that In most USA jurisdictions, psychotherapists (at least the licensed ones) are mandated by state law to report certain behaviors to responsible authorities (e.g., the police, physicians, etc.). He went on to write that like homicidal intent, suicidal intent is always a reportable issue.
Not wanting to stray too far off the main focus of today’s post, while some might point to a possible violation of doctor-patient confidentiality, the state’s interest in preserving life and preventing abuse according to Dr. Dombeck, trumps the right to confidentiality. Psychologists, continued Dombeck, who do not report when they are supposed to report can face legal sanctions.
An added dimension to this train of thought relative to vagueness and heightened responsibility is whether or not Melchert-Dinkel’s encouragement carried more weight based on the fact that although operating under a pseudonym he was in fact presenting himself as a nurse to those he counselled. This would imply, at least to a certain degree that he was dispensing advice in his professional capacity as a health care provider. One would have to ask if his encouragement would have carried as much weight if he had told his victims that he was a truck driver. It is obvious that Melchert-Dinkel considered his medical background as being important otherwise why even mention it?
For me, this is the critical point of these legal proceedings. If Melchert-Dinkel was advising people in his capacity as a nurse and the Appellate Court rules that he should not have been charged, does this let health care professionals in general off the hook in terms of reporting suicidal behavior?
While an extreme example, will an Appellate decision to overturn the trial judge’s guilty verdict (if this is in fact the ruling from the bench), open the door to police officers or firefighters having the freedom to join a crowd in cheering on a jumper to step off the ledge versus reaching out to the distraught in an effort to save them?
In the end, and even though the individuals who took their lives ultimately did so by their own hand, if a Melchert-Dinkel walks, what does it say about us as individuals and as a society as a whole? What does it say about our justice system (note I used the word justice instead of legal), when the technicalities of the very laws that are designed to protect us take precedence over personal responsibility and moral sensibilities?
I guess we will have to wait to see how this plays itself out over the coming weeks to answer these questions?
February 24th, 2011 – Young girl’s YouTube video talking about Melchert-Dinkel Suicides and Death is troubling on so many levels
The age of the young girl (whose face we never see) talking in the videos about William Melchert-Dinkel and how he enticed Nadia Kajouji as well as others to take their lives while he watched, as well as death in general, is not known.
But listening to the obvious sweet innocence of her tender voice it is hard to imagine that she is any older than 13 or 14 years.
Right off the bat as I hear her gentle and youthful ramblings while filming the Fifth Estate television show’s screen on her computer’s monitor – which at one point displays a menacing picture of Melchert-Dinkel above the words Justice For Nadia, I cannot help but wonder why someone so young sits in a room with shades drawn discussing the horrors of an adult world that seems to have gone awry.
I have always been a champion for social media and social networking because of the access it provides to individuals who might not otherwise experience the world as it is happening. Certainly I have at times questioned whether this increased access equates into a proportional increase in awareness and understanding but, I nonetheless applaud this ability to connect globally if not always intimately.
However, as I watched the videos that have only had a handful of views, I felt a somewhat sombre turn in my stomach as I tried to decipher her apparent empathy in talking about suicide and why you shouldn’t do it (because it will make your parents sad she would say).
While she mentions a brief conversation with her father, who offers encouragement by suggesting that she focus her attention on happier things, it just doesn’t seem right for such a young girl to be sitting in a shaded room talking to the virtual void that is the Internet about matters that quite frankly should be the furthest from her mind.
At her age I was more concerned with sports, girls and one day in the very near future getting my driver’s license. Suicide and even death were little more than vague concepts relegated to the dramas on the idiot box, warranting little if any of my attention. Hence the reason why I used the picture from the film American Graffiti as the lead image for this post.
Do not get me wrong as I do not for a moment think that she herself is contemplating doing herself harm. If I thought otherwise, my first course of action would be to contact the authorities. What is troubling as indicated above is the fact that such a young person would even be compelled to talk about such a serious “adult topic.”
February 28th, 2011 – Arguments surrounding the Melchert-Dinkel trial may be lengthy but the underlining focus is the assignment of blame
While you will not likely be inclined to review the summarized positions by both the prosecution and the defense in the bench trial of Serial Suicide Killer William Melchert-Dinkel documents in their entirety – especially the 100 page defense submission by Melchert-Dinkel lawyer Terry Watkins, the underlining focus is on assigning blame.
While Rice County prosecutor Paul Beaumaster clearly points to Melchert-Dinkel’s predatory pursuit of vulnerable victims in the suicide chat rooms of the virtual world in what by the defendant’s own admission was a “thrill of the chase” exercise to satisfy his macabre interest in suicides and hangings, the defense has taken the position that these people were lost causes in that they already had the inclination towards taking their lives.
While asking the judge to ignore the sleazily odoriferous dialogue perpetrated by Melchert-Dinkle during his exchanges with his victims, such as with Nadia Kajouji in which he posed as a young female nurse (a troubling issue that still bothers me in that had he thought what he was doing was right, why resort to subterfuge?), Watkins referenced the fact that Kajouji was bisexual, possibly pregnant and obviously troubled, as a means of lessening the impact of his client’s involvement. In short, and if you take the defense’s argument at face value, she was a suicide waiting to happen. Or to put it another way, Melchert-Dinkel’s actions had no bearing on the outcome in either the Kajouji or Drybrough suicides, or the purported suicides of at least three other people.
In contemplating his actions, I think that it is important at this point that we not forget about his interaction with minors such as the 16 year old girl from the Netherlands whom he encouraged to repeatedly cut herself while he watched via his webcam (PI News Special: Melchert-Dinkel Counselled and then Watched via Webcam as 16 Year Old Girl Cut Herself), as a means of illustrating just how far he was willing to go to satiate his sickening desires.
As indicated, the likelihood that most people who review either the prosecutor’s case or defense’s arguments in their entirety is understandably remote. However, and beyond the summary for each document that is provided below the corresponding SlideShare Viewers, I would suggest that what you do read are the online exchanges between Melchert-Dinkel and both Kajouji and Drybrough from the submission by the prosecutor, before you look at the defense’s provision of witness testimony as to the accusatory fragile state of the victims’ mindset.
While this case will inevitably be decided based on the interpretation of the law, and likely by the Appellate Court, I cannot help but think of the following analogy that if a person is walking precariously close to the edge of a cliff do you reach out to keep them from falling or, do you push them over the edge. Melchert-Dinkel chose the latter and did so for nothing more than perverse, self-serving gratification.
While the legal liability regarding his actions is up for debate, I do not think that anyone would argue with the moral reprehensibility of his conduct.
Furthermore, and citing the following statement from Thomas Jefferson which has been attributed to the observation that “The Constitution is not a suicide pact,” perhaps the courts should remember that the law is here to serve the people, versus the people serving the law:
“A strict observance of the written law is doubtless one of the high duties of a good citizen, but it is not the highest. The laws of necessity, of self-preservation, of saving our country when in danger, are of higher obligation. To lose our country by a scrupulous adherence to the written law, would be to lose the law itself, with life, liberty, property and all those who are enjoying them with us; thus absurdly sacrificing the ends to the means.”
March 16th, 2011 – The Verdict Is In! Melchert-Dinkel Is Guilty . . . For Now!
However, the law is not based solely on society’s moral sensibilities (although it should reflect them). Nor for that matter, has Melchert-Dinkel lawyer Watkin’s claimed that his client’s actions were morally honorable. The issue at hand is whether or not his client had the right to write what he did in the chat rooms, regardless of the consequences. It is upon this point of law that the Appellate Court will hear the case and ultimately decide Melchert-Dinkel’s future.
(Opening paragraph from the February 16th, 2011 PI Window on Business post Melchert-Dinkel Defense Attorney is Earning His Pay with Lothenbach Plea)
From the moment I had first heard about this case, and throughout our extensive coverage (which has included exclusive stories and interviews), it has been a journey of contradictory extremes where moral sensibilities collided with legal technicalities in the uncharted realms of the virtual world.
Suffice to say, and while you strive hard to maintain a detached objectivity, you cannot help but be drawn into the maelstrom of emotions and moral debates that have for many, made a life-altering impact.
For the families of Melchert-Dinkel’s victims, whose heartache began long before this “thrill of the chase” predator stalked their loved ones, yesterday’s verdict must feel somewhat like a Pyrrhic victory of sorts. With suicide rates climbing – according to one U.S. report, suicide is the third leading cause of death in teenagers and the fourth leading cause of death in pre-teens, the challenges of loving and caring for someone in pain only to see them take their lives at the prompting of another will likely compound the angst and confusion as to why this had to happen.
When you also consider the fact that Melchert-Dinkel had previously intimated the existence of a predator network when he had made references to finding a way to commit “legal murder,” the possibility that other families may face a similar fate in the future is very disconcerting.
While we should have no illusions regarding yesterday’s verdict, even if it is upheld in the Appellate Courts, that this will necessarily deter those who share Melchert-Dinkel’s compulsions, it is nonetheless an important outcome as it reflects a moral value that transcends the legal wrangling’s relating to First Amendment Rights and the purported vagueness of the law upon which the criminal charges were based. At least for the moment, the verdict connects us with our humanity that has far too often been lost in the contentiousness of a world that seems to be at odds with itself.
March 17th, 2011 – Despite Melchert-Dinkel being found guilty, Nadia Kajouji’s mother finds little solace in verdict
You would think he’d use this opportunity to once again question the lack of action on the part of the Ottawa police, and even to question why M388 has not yet been passed into law. From his release one who didn’t know better would actually assume this was a Canadian victory rather than a victory in spite of the Canadian authorities.
(Deborah Chevalier from Facebook comment stream regarding MP Harold Albrecht’s press release)
Over the past few months I have had on several occasions the opportunity to talk with Deborah Chevalier through either e-mail or when she was a guest on the September 1st, 2010 PI Window segment Is The Internet A Safe Haven For Serial Killers?.
It has been an interesting relationship in that I cannot even begin to imagine what she must be feeling beyond a trace understanding as a result of my being a parent. This has made our rapport challenging at times, in that as a writer I never wanted to lose sight of the very real and emotional familial impact resulting from her daughter’s death, while still maintaining the necessary level of objectivity to effectively and accurately report the facts surrounding a case which on so many levels represents a seminal turning point relative to assisted suicide laws and criminal liability in the virtual environs that is the Internet.
Let’s be honest with ourselves folks . . . while the Melchert-Dinkel story has captivated the media’s attention since it entered mainstream consciousness, at the end of the day we will all to varying degrees move on to the next big story. It is a fact of life that our attention span associated with the life events of others has a limited shelf life. Even the Japanese earthquake will one day fade into a somewhat ephemerally muted recollection that like so many other intensely acute occurrences cedes to the here and now realities of the day.
In the meantime, and left in the wake of our passing awareness, are the individuals like Deborah Chevalier who continue to be directly affected by what was previously the news of the day. Reminiscent of the feelings I had on the Sunday following my father’s funeral in which after the whirlwind of family and friends coming into our lives had moved on to their own every day existence, I can still remember the ominous void of loneliness with which I was left to deal in terms of the death of a man who had such a significant impact on my life.
This perhaps would explain more than anything else why the hoped for verdict, convicting the man responsible for propelling her daughter’s latent predisposition towards death into a nightmarish reality, would itself produce an empty discontent relative to the interlopers of outside interests whose persevering motivations are reasonably suspect.
Despite the favorable outcome relative to Melchert-Dinkel being found guilty, Deborah Chevalier’s questions as to why M388 has not yet passed into law has to be explained beyond the usual political speak of expressed empathy for her loss, as does that absence of police action north of the 49th parallel. Whether or not those answers will be forthcoming in both the time frame and manner for which she is hoping remains to be seen. And even if they are, to what extent will it help her to find what must be an elusive peace and closure.
Last Case Diary Entry
The case of William Melchert-Dinkel is not yet over has there is a final stanza in this long and troubling journey through the legal system from the initial laying of charges by police, to the judge’s guilty verdict.
That being said, it is the practical elements from an insider’s perspective of the case itself that provides the broader lens through which policing the Internet must be viewed.
The only question you as a member of a globally borderless society must consider goes back to Professor Susan Brenner’s statement regarding the reconciliation of virtual and physical realities in terms of law enforcement starting with the basic premise of criminal law which is “preventing the infliction of harm.”
If you consider emotional harm to be has real as physical harm, then it is perhaps in that reasoning where you will ultimately find the answer.