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Lawyer says law against encouraging suicide violates free speech

May 14, 2013 at 4:49 PM

ST. PAUL, Minn., May 14 (UPI) -- The Minnesota Supreme Court is considering an appeal by a nurse who says his conviction for advising two people to kill themselves is unconstitutional.

Terry Watkins, an attorney representing former Faribault nurse William Melchert-Dinkel, told the court the state law against advising, encouraging or assisting suicide violates his client's right to free speech, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported Monday.

Melchert-Dinkel, 50, was convicted in March 2011 on two felony counts of assisting the suicides of Mark Drybrough, 32, of England and Nadia Kajouji, 18, of Canada.

Kajouji jumped off a bridge two hours after corresponding with Melchert-Dinkel online. Drybrough hanged himself several days after Melchert-Dinkel advised him on how to position the rope.

In his arguments before the court Monday, Watkins said his client's actions weren't "any different from what one might get by googling the term 'hanging.'"

His client was even less culpable in Kajouji's death, Watkins said, because Melchert-Dinkel advised the woman to hang herself rather than drown.

The attorney said his client had not actively participated in the suicides.

Assistant Rice County Attorney Terence Swihart said advising or encouraging suicide were not forms of speech protected by the First Amendment.

Three justices noted suicide is not illegal in Minnesota.

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