FARIBAULT, Minn. — A former nurse accused of seeking out depressed people online and encouraging two to kill themselves was found guilty Tuesday of aiding the suicides of a British man and Canadian woman.

William Melchert-Dinkel was charged in April with two counts of aiding suicide for allegedly advising and encouraging two people to take their own lives. Mark Drybrough, 32, of Coventry, England, hanged himself in 2005, and Nadia Kajouji, 18, of Brampton, Ontario, jumped into a frozen river in 2008.

Melchert-Dinkel, 48, declined a jury trial and left his fate to a judge, who issued his verdict Tuesday.

Rice County District Judge Thomas Neuville once again rejected Melchert-Dinkel’s argument that his actions amounted to free speech. Melchert-Dinkel was not merely advocating ideas about suicide, Neuville said, but engaging in “lethal advocacy.” Neuville scheduled his sentencing for May 4.

Defense attorney Terry Watkins said he and his client planned to appeal. He said they didn’t dispute the facts as the judge laid them out in his 42-page ruling, but respectfully disagreed on whether they added up to proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

After sentencing, Watkins said, their next stop will be the Minnesota Court of Appeals, and they’re prepared to appeal to higher courts if necessary. He said the appellate courts will have to answer whether Melchert-Dinkel’s actions rose to the level of a crime or were protected speech in the context in which they occurred.

“We will carry this as far as judicially allowed,” Watkins said.

Prosecutors said Melchert-Dinkel, of Faribault, was obsessed with suicide and hanging and sought out potential victims on the Internet. When he found them, prosecutors said, he posed as a female nurse, feigned compassion and offered step-by-step instructions on how they could kill themselves.

Rice County Attorney Paul Beaumaster said Melchert-Dinkel told police he did it for the “thrill of the chase.” Prosecutors said 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.

Melchert-Dinkel waived his right to a jury trial and agreed that the judge would issue a verdict based on the evidence. That allowed Melchert-Dinkel to keep his right to appeal.

Minnesota’s aiding suicide law carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and a $30,000 fine. But data from the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission showed that since 1994, only six people have been sentenced on the charge: one was sent to prison for four years, while the rest received either local jail time, probation or both.

Melchert-Dinkel has been allowed to remain free under certain conditions. Among them, he is not allowed to use the Internet without approval.