Melchert-Dinkel found guilty in web suicide case

Image caption,
A judge said Melchert-Dinkel, shown in February, "imminently incited" the two suicides

A US nurse has been convicted of aiding the suicides of an English man and a Canadian woman after seeking out depressed people online and urging the two to kill themselves.

William Melchert-Dinkel, 48, was prosecuted over the hanging death of Mark Drybrough and the death of Nadia Kajouji, who leapt into a river.

Prosecutors say he posed as a female nurse, advising them on suicide.

His lawyer said the two were already suicidal, and cited freedom of speech.

Melchert-Dinkel declined a jury trial, and on Tuesday a judge in Rice County in the US state of Minnesota issued the verdict.

Prosecutors said he was obsessed with suicide and enjoyed the "thrill of the chase". They said he discussed suicide with as many as 20 people online, and entered into suicide pacts with 10, at least five of whom killed themselves, the Associated Press reported.

Melchert-Dinkel's attorney Terry Watkins acknowledged his acts were "sick" and "abhorrent" but said Mr Drybrough of Coventry had been ill for years and Ms Kajouji was depressed and drinking heavily.

Rice County Judge Thomas Neuville rejected Mr Watkins's argument earlier in the trial that Melchert-Dinkel's remarks was shielded by the free speech protections of the US constitution.

The investigation began in March 2008 when a woman in Wiltshire in the UK alerted Minnesota police that a person had been encouraging people to take their own lives on an internet forum.

Fake suicide pact

After Mr Drybrough's death, police in Britain and the US sifted through his computer and determined he had sought advice online and that a person they later identified as Melchert-Dinkel had given him technical advice on how to hang himself, prosecutors said.

Investigators in Minnesota and Canada also determined Melchert-Dinkel had entered into a suicide pact with Ms Kajouji, whose body was later found in a river.

On Tuesday, Judge Neuville found that Melchert-Dinkel "imminently incited" the two suicides, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.

He faces up to 15 years in prison and a $30,000 (£18,676) fine. He is to be sentenced on 4 May.