Missouri’s proposed ‘Kenny’s Law’ says driving someone to suicide could be a felony

Kenneth Suttner, 17, committed suicide in December 2016 in mid-Missouri.
Kenneth Suttner, 17, committed suicide in December 2016 in mid-Missouri. The Associated Press

A bill before Missouri lawmakers says anyone who encourages a person to commit suicide could be charged with a felony.

The bill, called “Kenny’s Law,” is named after Kenneth Suttner, a 17-year-old from Glasgow, Mo., who took his own life in December 2016.

A county coroner’s inquest last year ruled Suttner’s suicide was the result of harassment he suffered at work and at school.

Kenny’s former manager at a Dairy Queen in Fayette, Mo., Harley Branham, was arrested and charged last year with involuntary manslaughter, aggravated stalking, two counts of third-degree assault and two counts of harassment, according to online court records.

The Columbia Daily Tribune reported in January that the manslaughter charge was dropped, but Branham still faces the other charges. The case is pending in Howard County, Mo.

Senate Bill 791 was presented to the Missouri Senate’s Judiciary and Civil and Criminal Jurisprudence Committee on Monday.

The bill, if passed, suggests a person could be charged with second-degree involuntary manslaughter — a class E felony in the state — if that person “knowingly incites any person to commit self-murder, including through the use of telephone or electronic communications, and such incitement results in the death of such person.”

The bill’s sponsor is State Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, a Democrat from St. Louis. In a statement, Nasheed said the legal system in the state currently “doesn’t always know how to respond” when a person takes their own life as a result of bullying and cyberbullying.

The state senator referenced a case in Massachusetts where a 20-year-old woman was found guilty of sending texts to her boyfriend encouraging him to follow through with a plan to kill himself by carbon monoxide poisoning. Michelle Carter was sentenced to 15 months in jail last summer following a bench trial.

“There are several court cases across the country and even here in Missouri dealing with the exact circumstances laid out in this bill. Current law is vague on how to handle these relatively new situations, but it shouldn’t be,” Nasheed said in a statement. “This bill provides instructions to Missouri’s courts on how to address bullying and harassment. We must hold people accountable for their actions. If a person bullies or harasses someone into taking their own life, they should be held responsible.”

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Kaitlyn Schwers: 816-234-7909, @kaitlynschwers