In precedent-setting case, aiding suicide charges laid in Brampton teen’s death

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Nadia Kajouji, who was a student at Carleton University, drowned herself in the Rideau River in March, 2008.

Minnesota man accused of encouraging two people to kill themselves

More than two years after Brampton teenager Nadia Kajouji drowned herself, a Minnesota prosecutor has laid precedent-setting charges against a former nurse.

William Melchert-Dinkel has been charged with two counts of aiding suicide for his alleged role in the deaths of Kajouji and a 32-year-old British man, Mark Drybrough.

The 47-year-old father is accused of encouraging, advising and forming online suicide pacts with each of them.

The troubling case, which has garnered international attention, is believed to be the first time in North America that assisted suicide laws have been applied in such a way and, if successful, may pave the way for future prosecutions.

The development came Friday after more than a year-long investigation by Minnesota’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. The case faced numerous delays, jurisdictional hurdles and constitutional dilemmas. For the past six months, investigators have been working closely with prosecutors to determine whether Melchert-Dinkel should be charged on a state-level, federally or at all.

According to documents filed in Rice County court, Melchert-Dinkel admitted to police that he had made online suicide pacts with between 10 and 11 individuals located all over the world. He would go on chat rooms under the aliases “cami,” “Li Dao” or “falcon_girl,” and introduce himself as a female nurse. Police say he confessed to touting his medical background, while offering suicide method advice, such as medications and rope-tying techniques.

Melchert-Dinkel, who last year had his nursing licence revoked, told investigators he had an obsession with death and suicide. It was “the thrill of the chase,” he told police.

But is that a crime?

“It’s a freedom of speech issue. Suicide is a behaviour. Someone does that to themselves. The issue in this particular case (is) how much of an impact does what one person says have on your behaviour?” explained Dan Reidenberg, executive director of Minnesota’s Suicide Awareness Voices of Education. “Does that pass the smell test of it being a crime? Well, when we’re talking about someone taking their life, I would say it does.”

On Friday, Rice County prosecutor Paul Beaumaster decided he agreed. Melchert-Dinkel now faces up to 30 years in prison and $60,000 in fines if convicted. Beaumaster’s office declined to comment, but prosecutor James Backstrom, who works in neighbouring Dakota County, said the charges are unique. “I think in my 23 years here, I’ve maybe filed one or two assisted suicide cases — and that involved direct physical actions,” said James Backstrom, a Minnesota prosecutor in neighbouring Dakota County. “The bottom line is, it is not legal.”

Sgt. Paul Schnell, a spokesperson with the St. Paul police department, said investigators have been charting new territory for the past year.  “Mercy killings is where you would most likely have seen this applied,” he said. “We do have a model and precedent for cases involving the Internet when it comes to child pornography or a host of financial crimes, but this was different.”

In the end, the decision was made that Minnesota had clearly worded assisted suicide laws that were transferable to a case of online coaxing. For Kajouji’s father, the news offered some comfort.  Reached at his Brampton home, Mohamed Kajouji said the investigation had gone on so long, he was worried no charges would ever be laid.  “It won’t bring Nadia back, but it is a relief,” he said. “I miss her so much, and not a day goes by when I don’t think about it.”

In high school, Nadia Kajouji was a bright and social girl, who dreamed of being a lawyer. But shortly after moving away from home, she started using drugs and became depressed. She began taking antidepressants. Then there was a breakup with a boyfriend.

After Kajouji jumped into the Rideau River, her body wasn’t discovered for six weeks. Ottawa police came across Kajouji’s conversation and traced the computer to Faribault, Minnesota, a small town outside Minneapolis where Melchert-Dinkel lives with his wife and two teenage daughters.

Calls made to Melchert-Dinkel’s home were not returned. He is due to appear in court May 25.

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