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Convictions for advising suicides overturned

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MINNEAPOLIS -- The mother of a Canadian university student who committed suicide after online conversations with a former U.S. nurse said the reversal of the man's convictions means justice isn't being served.

The Minnesota Supreme Court reversed the convictions Wednesday of William Melchert-Dinkel, who is accused of encouraging two people he met online to kill themselves.

One of them was 18-year-old Nadia Kajouji of Brampton, Ont., who jumped into a frozen Ottawa river in 2008.

The Carleton University student's mother said the ruling doesn't change what Melchert-Dinkel stands accused of.

"It's a legal system, it's not a justice system. The two are completely different," Deborah Chevalier said after hearing of the ruling. "At the very least, the world knows what he's done. His friends, his family know what he's done. He can't run away from that."

Melchert-Dinkel was convicted in 2011 of two counts of aiding suicide. The judge found he "intentionally advised and encouraged" Kajouji and an English man -- 32-year-old Mark Drybrough, who died in 2005 -- to take their own lives.

The high court struck down a section of the state's assisted-suicide law that makes it a crime to "encourage" someone to commit suicide, but upheld part of the law that makes it a crime to "assist" in someone's suicide.

Since the lower court judge did not rule on whether Melchert-Dinkel "assisted" in a suicide, the high court sent the case back to that judge for further consideration.

Rice County prosecutor Paul Beaumaster, who handled the case, said it's now up to the lower court judge to decide whether the evidence showed Melchert-Dinkel "assisted" in the suicides.

Melchert-Dinkel's lawyer, Terry Watkins, said he doesn't believe there is enough evidence to prove that.

Beaumaster disagreed. The court ruling says speech alone can be used to "assist" or enable a suicide if it goes beyond merely expressing a moral viewpoint or providing comfort or support.

"Here, we need only note that speech instructing another on suicide methods falls within the ambit of constitutional limitations on speech... " the justices wrote.

Beaumaster said the fact the justices sent the case back to the lower court shows there's evidence Melchert-Dinkel assisted in the deaths.

Justice Alan Page disagreed the case should be sent back to determine whether Melchert-Dinkel "assisted" in the suicides. He said there's not enough evidence, and it is a waste of the court's resources.

The high court's ruling could affect the outcome of another case that challenged the constitutionality of Minnesota's law that bans people from assisting, advising or encouraging suicide.

That case involves members of the Final Exit Network, a national right-to-die group, who were involved in the 2007 death of an Apple Valley woman. That case is also pending before the Supreme Court.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 20, 2014 A13

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