Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Nielsen enters guilty pleas in murder case -
Associated Press

By DAVID SHARP

PARIS, Maine (AP) _ A 32-year-old cook accused of killing four people and dismembering their bodies with a chain saw, hacksaw and pick ax abruptly dropped his insanity defense and pleaded guilty to four counts of murder on Tuesday.

Christian Nielsen calmly entered a conditional plea a day before jury selection was to begin in his trial for the killings over Labor Day weekend in 2006 that state police described as Maine's worst homicide case in more than a decade.

His decision spared family members from gruesome testimony, but several were frustrated that he remained unable to say what sparked the killings.

Assistant Attorney General Andrew Benson said Nielsen stated that he killed a resident of the Black Bear Bed & Breakfast because he was "objectionable" and that the innkeeper and two other women were killed as part of an attempted coverup.

In court, Nielsen said he was unable to elaborate. He said he discussed motives with his legal team, and "we never came up with anything concrete."

Juanita Whitehurst, mother of the Charles Whitehurst, the first of Nielsen's four victims, expressed dismay when she left the courthouse in a wheelchair.

"He can't give me a motive for why he killed my son. He doesn't know," said Whitehurst, who traveled from Arkansas to attend the trial this week.

Nielsen faces 25 years to life on each of the four counts of murder when he's sentenced on Oct. 18. But his plea came with a condition: Nielsen can withdraw it if he wins an appeal of several pretrial motions that favor the prosecution.

Prosecutors say the killings started with the shooting of Whitehurst, 50, of Batesville, Ark., a handyman who had been staying at the inn.

Authorities say Nielsen shot him, partially dismembered him and burned the remains in woods miles away in Upton on the Friday before Labor Day.

Two days later, Nielsen killed the Black Bear's owner, Julie Bullard, 65. The following day, Labor Day, he killed Bullard's daughter, Selby, 30, and her friend, Cindy Beatson, 43, when they arrived at the inn unexpectedly.

The grisly murder scene at the bed and breakfast in Newry near the Sunday River ski resort was discovered on the evening of Labor Day after Nielsen called his father and told him that he was running the inn in Julie Bullard's absence.

The father dropped by and called police.

Benson said there was plenty of physical evidence linking Nielsen to the crimes, including blood found on a hacksaw, a hatchet, a pick ax and a chain saw. His handgun was found at the inn, and he confessed the killings to police.

Nielsen's lawyers sought unsuccessfully to suppress the confession and to have Nielsen declared incompetent to stand trial. If he appeals and wins on those issues, then a judge could throw out the guilty plea and order a trial.

Ron Hoffman, one of his defense lawyers, said he recommended that Nielsen continue with a trial using an insanity defense in hopes of having him continue to receive treatment at a psychiatric hospital instead of going to state prison.

But Hoffman said he had to respect Nielsen's decision. "He has a right to do what he wants to do," Hoffman said. "We respect that."

Psychologists testified at Nielsen's competency hearing that he suffers from schizoid personality disorder and possibly other mental health problems including Asperger's Syndrome, often described as a mild form of autism.

His weight was another problem. After Justice Robert Crowley found Nielsen competent to stand trial, the 6-foot-tall Nielsen stopped eating and dropped by about 12 pounds, to 106 pounds, possibly impairing his cognitive ability.

The defense had planned to use the weight issue to revisit his competency, but he started eating after facing the possibility of a feeding tube.

Dianna Taylor, Charles Whitehurt's sister, said she views Nielsen not as crazy but as a calculating killer that she likened to the devil.

"When I first saw him on TV, he had this smirk on his face like 'look what I did, people,'" she said tearfully. "I have no love for that man."