Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

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March 20, 2014

Court reverses convictions in aiding-suicide case

(Continued)

Melchert-Dinkel told police he did it for the "thrill of the chase." According to court documents, he acknowledged participating in online chats about suicide with up to 20 people and entering into fake suicide pacts with about 10, five of whom he believed killed themselves.

He was convicted in the deaths of Nadia Kajouji, 18, of Brampton, Ontario, and Mark Drybrough, 32, of Coventry, England. Kajouji jumped into a frozen river in 2008, and Drybrough hanged himself in 2005.

He was sentenced to 360 days in jail, but that was put on hold and he has remained free while the appeal was pending.

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

Justice Barry Anderson, writing for the majority, said speech alone can be used to assist or enable a suicide if it is narrowly targeted to one person and provides that person with what is needed to carry out the act.

"This signifies a level of involvement in the suicide beyond merely expressing a moral viewpoint or providing general comfort or support. Rather, 'assist,' by its plain meaning, involves enabling the person to commit suicide," he wrote.

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

Melchert-Dinkel's attorney, Terry Watkins, said he doesn't believe there's enough evidence to prove his client assisted in the deaths.

"We've never pretended that the actions that he did should be condoned or should be admired ... but constitutionally, he was not in the wrong," Watkins said.

Justice Alan Page offered the lone dissent. While he agreed that the state's language against "advising" and "encouraging" suicides is unconstitutional, he disagreed that the lower court should now determine whether Melchert-Dinkel "assisted" in the suicides. He said there's not enough evidence, and it's a waste of resources.

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