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Published February 17, 2011, 04:08 PM

No Jury Trial for MN Man Said to Encourage Suicides

Once a week, Deborah Chevalier makes the short trip from her home in Canada to the cemetery where her daughter is buried, tenderly clears the snow from her grave and sits down to remember.

By: Amy Forliti, Associated Press

FARIBAULT, Minn. (AP) — Once a week, Deborah Chevalier makes the short trip from her home in Canada to the cemetery where her daughter is buried, tenderly clears the snow from her grave and sits down to remember.

It's a way to stay close to her Nadia, who drowned herself in 2008, believing she had entered into a suicide pact with a female nurse online. But prosecutors say Nadia Kajouji was actually communicating with William Melchert-Dinkel, a Minnesota man and former nurse who had no intention of killing himself but enjoyed preying on depressed people, telling police he did it for the "thrill of the chase."

Melchert-Dinkel, 48, of Faribault, has been charged with two counts of aiding suicide, each carrying a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.

On Thursday, he pleaded not guilty before a southern Minnesota judge but accepted evidence gathered in the case and waived his right to a jury trial. Rice County District Court Judge Thomas Neuville set oral arguments for a week later and said he would decide the case within 20 days of that hearing.

The defense has argued that the online activities were protected speech, the victims were predisposed to suicide and Melchert-Dinkel's comments were not a factor in their deaths.

After the hearing, Melchert-Dinkel's attorney Terry Watkins said his client was "taking a leap of faith" that a judge would decide in Melchert-Dinkel's favor.

"While there isn't a dispute as to the facts themselves, the dispute comes into the interpretation of the facts, and whether there is a nexus to say that a crime occurred," Watkins said.

Chevalier said even if Melchert-Dinkel is convicted, it will not be enough for the man she believes pushed her daughter over the edge.

"I do not believe that any punishment they will put on him will be what he deserves," she said.

Prosecutors say Melchert-Dinkel was obsessed with suicide and hanging and sought out potential victims on the Internet. When he found them, prosecutors say, he posed in chat rooms and in e-mails as a woman, using names like "Li dao," 'Cami," or "falcon girl." He feigned compassion and offered step-by-step instructions on how they could kill themselves.

Prosecutors say 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. He is charged in two deaths, that of 18-year-old Kajouji, of Brampton, Ontario, who jumped into a river in 2008; and 32-year-old Mark Drybrough, of Coventry, England, who hung himself in 2005.

"He is, in my mind, a murderer," Chevalier said. "His intent was to cause harm. His intent was to see their deaths."

Chevalier said she knew her daughter was going through a difficult time — she had suffered a miscarriage and the man involved wasn't speaking to her.

According to information provided by prosecutors, Kajouji went online on March 1, 2008, saying she wanted to commit suicide but was afraid of failing. Five days later, she participated in two online chats with "Cami" — who prosecutors say was actually Melchert-Dinkel, claiming to be a 31-year-old emergency room nurse in Minneapolis.

During the chats, Kajouji said she planned on the following Sunday to jump off a bridge into a frozen river while wearing ice skates, to make her death look like an accident. Cami suggested hanging instead and promised that if Kajouji's plan to jump on Sunday didn't work, the two of them would hang themselves together on Monday.

"We are together in this," Kajouji wrote.

"Yes I promise, Monday will be my day," Cami replied. In those chats detailed in court documents, Cami wrote about feeling "really suicidal" and wanting to die but waiting to see if Kajouji's jump was a success. "im just tryin to help you do what is best for you not me" Cami wrote.

Police in Ottawa say Kajouji disappeared on March 9, 2008, after telling her roommate she was going ice skating. Her body was pulled from the Rideau River six weeks later.

Chevalier said she'll never know if her daughter might have committed suicide on her own, but noted that Nadia was doing all the right things — seeing a counselor and taking medication. She thinks her daughter went online as a plea for help.

"If she didn't have someone pushing her in the other direction, I think she would've been pulled out of it," she said.