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Published August 28, 2010, 04:02 PM

Minn. man charged with aiding suicides takes stand

FARIBAULT, Minn. (AP) — A lawyer for an ex-nurse charged with encouraging two people to kill themselves via online conversations tried to get his client's confession thrown out Friday, saying his client was so stressed by police that he was rendered insane.

Defense attorney Terry Watkins raised the mental illness defense at a motions hearing Friday for William Melchert-Dinkel, 48, of Faribault, who's accused of encouraging the suicides of a man in England in 2005 and a woman in Canada in 2008, the Faribault Daily News reported.

Melchert-Dinkel testified Friday he felt intimidated by the officers who came to his home in January of 2009, particularly when one asked "Did you know that what you were doing broke the law?" He said he felt intimidated by the question because he didn't understand that encouraging suicide was unlawful.

Melchert-Dinkel also claimed he has been diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome and anxiety, and that he might also "possibly" suffer from depression.

His wife, Joyce, testified through tears that when police arrived, they told her to take the family's dog and stay out of the room in which officers conducted their interview.

But two of the three officers who visited Melchert-Dinkel's home — St. Paul Police Sgt. William Haider and Faribault Detective Tony Tochinka — testified he freely invited them in, that they never put any constraints on the movements of him or any of his family members during the conversation, and that he was not confused and did not exhibit any outward signs of stress.

Rice County District Judge Thomas Neuville said he'll rule on the confession and other pretrial motions sometime late this fall, including whether the language Melchert-Dinkel used in online forums encouraging suicide is protected by the First Amendment freedom of speech.

Melchert-Dinkel is charged with of encouraging the suicides of Mark Drybrough, 32, who hanged himself at his home in Coventry, England, in 2005; and Nadia Kajouji, 18, of Brampton, Ontario, who drowned in 2008 in a river in Ottawa, where she was studying at Carleton University.

The rarely used state law carries a possible sentence of up to 15 years in prison and a $30,000 fine.

Prosecutors say Melchert-Dinkel posed as a female nurse under false online names, then feigned compassion for those he met in suicide chat rooms, while offering step-by-step instructions on how to take their lives.

The criminal complaint says he told investigators he encouraged "dozens" of people to commit suicide and estimated he had actually helped up to five people kill themselves. It says he told police he stopped the Internet chats shortly after Christmas 2008 for moral and legal reasons and "felt terrible" about what he did.

The Minnesota Board of Nursing revoked his license last year.

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Information from: Faribault Daily News, http://www.faribault.com

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