FARIBAULT, Minn. (AP) - A former nurse who helped persuade two people he met online to kill themselves was sentenced Wednesday to nearly a year in jail, a punishment tailored to force him to return to jail each year for a decade to spend the anniversaries of his victims' deaths behind bars.
William Melchert-Dinkel was convicted of two counts of aiding suicide under a rarely used Minnesota law. Prosecutors said he posed online as a suicidal nurse and encouraged a Canadian woman and a British man to commit suicide.
Judge Thomas Neuville's sentence was far less than the maximum 15 years Melchert-Dinkel could have gotten on each count. Neuville sentenced Melchert-Dinkel to 15 years of probation, which includes the jail time. If Melchert-Dinkel violates any terms of his probation, he'll be forced to serve a six-and-a-half year prison sentence.
Neuville compared Melchert-Dinkel's conduct to stalking, describing it as calculated, intentional, and fraudulent, but he also said that while Melchert-Dinkel's conduct was directly related to the deaths, he wasn't the sole reason the victims took their lives.
Melchert-Dinkel wiped tears from his eyes as the judge sentenced him. In a statement read by his attorney, Terry Watkins, he apologized and said he felt remorse.
He was ordered to start serving his jail sentence June 1, but Watkins had promised to appeal the convictions on free-speech grounds. If that appeal is filed before June 1, Melchert-Dinkel would remain free as his appeal is pending.
The judge structured the sentence so that Melchert-Dinkel would serve an initial 320 days, then be freed. Over the next 10 years, he would have serve two-day spells in jail on the anniversaries of his victims' deaths.
Prosecutors say Melchert-Dinkel was obsessed with hanging and suicide, and sought out potential victims online. They say he posed as a suicidal female nurse to win his victims' trust, then entered false suicide pacts and offered detailed instructions on how people could take their own lives.
Court documents say Melchert-Dinkel, a former nurse from the southern Minnesota town of Fairbault, told police he did it for the "thrill of the chase." He acknowledged participating in online chats about suicide with up to 20 people and entering into fake suicide pacts with about 10 people, five of whom he believed killed themselves.
Melchert-Dinkel declined a jury trial, leaving Neuville to decide whether he was guilty. He was convicted in the death of Mark Drybrough, 32, of Coventry, England, who hanged himself in 2005; and in the death of Nadia Kajouji, 18, of Brampton, Ontario, who jumped into a frozen river in 2008.