Did suicide viewers commit a crime?

185 people watched Abe Biggs kill himself online. Some tried to talk him out of it, other goaded him on. No one notified authorities until it was too late. Was a crime committed?

The fact that dozens of people watched Abraham Biggs, Jr., kill himself on a webcam – none of whom alerted authorities until it was too late and many of whom goaded him on – is not only an outrage, it may be a crime. Police in Pembroke Pines, Fla., are investigating culpability of the viewers and of justin.tv, where the suicide was streamed, The Guardian says.

An investigator with the Broward County medical examiner's office, which is dealing with the case, confirmed that some web users had encouraged the teenager to harm himself, while others had tried to talk him out of ending his life. The messageboard where he left the original note has now been deleted, but not before other viewers had noted some of the harsher reponses.

"You want to kill yourself?" said one internet user reacting to the teenager's message. "Do it, do the world a favour and stop wasting our time with your mindless self-pity."

It's not clear to most observers whether watching or goading or broadcasting the suicide is a chargable offense.

Florida has a law against assisting suicide, Fla. Stat. 782.08:

782.08 ASSISTING SELF-MURDER.--Every person deliberately assisting another in the commission of self-murder shall be guilty of manslaughter, a felony of the second degree

But what is "assisting"? Is goading assisting? It doesn't seem likely to me. In a traditional murder, it would be no crime to watch – or even encourage -- one person to murder another, unless the encouragement was part of a conspiracy or duress.

On the other hand, in New York advising someone to kill themselves is manslaughter, InfoWeek reports. I haven't found a law like that in Florida, but it seems there would have to be such a law in order to prosecute.

Last year a British man killed himself on webcam, after being urged to "get on with it" by viewers. The Crown Prosecution Service decided that none of the comments amounted to a criminal offense, the Guardian reported.

A MySpace memorial page is here.

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