PORTLAND – Shortly after reading Christian Nielsen his Miranda rights, Maine State Police Detective Jennifer King listened as the 31-year-old man confessed to killing four people, she testified Tuesday in Cumberland County Superior Court.
She had asked him if he understood he had the right to stop speaking at any time and remain silent.
“I sure do,” Nielsen told her. Then, he added, “I’m happy to talk.”
Nielsen and his attorneys were in court Tuesday seeking to prevent incriminating statements he made to police and evidence police found as a result of those statements from being presented at trial.
Nielsen was sitting at a table on the second floor of the Newry Fire Station the night of Sept. 4, 2006, when he told King what happened over that Labor Day weekend, according to a taped interview played in court Tuesday. Police had fed him, let him use the bathroom and seized his bloody clothes after a trooper provided him a change of his own clothes. A discussion that wandered from literature to hunting followed. King read Nielsen his rights before the chat turned serious.
“This is the plot,” Nielsen was heard saying on the tape, “Not the motivation.”
Then, Nielsen asks King: “We’re talking about dead people, OK? Is that something you want me to talk about?”
He offered his story.
“I’ll tell you exactly what happened.”
He said he bought a .38-caliber pistol and shot James Whitehurst, 50, of Arkansas with it. Then he shot three women with the gun, he said.
“They’re all dead.”
He paused and checked with King to make sure he was talking about the right subject.
“There you are. There you have it,” he said. “I did it.”
Asked by prosecutors whether she believed Nielsen understood who she was, where he was and what his rights were, King said she did.
But defense attorneys argued during the hearing that lasted a day and a half, ending Tuesday, that the confession shouldn’t be allowed at trial, nor should any information bolstering the state’s case involving Whitehurst. Justice Robert Crowley is expected to review further audio and video tapes of the case, consider any legal citations from attorneys, then decide whether Nielsen’s statements and evidence gleaned from them should be allowed.
Attorney Ron E. Hoffman said his client had mentioned early on the idea of speaking with a lawyer but was never provided one.
Dan Hanson, the Maine State Police trooper first on the scene, testified Monday that he recited the Miranda warning to Nielsen immediately after Nielsen confessed to the killings. Nielsen had said that maybe he should talk to a lawyer, but never directly asked for one, Hanson said.
King said Tuesday that she shared Hanson’s interpretation of what Nielsen had said about maybe needing a lawyer, that it was not a request for legal counsel.
But, Hanson was heard Monday on a video tape from the Newry scene acknowledging that Nielsen had invoked his right to counsel. Asked by Hoffman about that statement, Hanson said he had misstated what Nielsen had actually told him.
It was after Hanson advised Nielsen of his rights that he handcuffed him and sat him in his cruiser. Nielsen had told Hanson he only wanted to tell his story once. Hanson said Monday he decided to wait until King showed up rather than asking Nielsen about his alleged criminal actions.
At one point, though, Hanson asked Nielsen for information about another of the dead bodies. Nielsen’s answers helped lead police to Whitehurst’s burned remains in Upton.
Assistant Attorney General Andrew Benson suggested Tuesday that police would have found Whitehurst’s body without Nielsen’s help because the defendant’s father also had offered information about that victim’s location.
Hoffman had sought to cast doubt on the credibility of Hanson’s testimony by raising questions about his emotional state. The defense had hoped to gain access to Hanson’s medical and personnel files, but Crowley rejected those efforts.
Hanson was placed on administrative leave for about three work shifts after he viewed the dismembered bodies of female victims at the crime scene at the Black Bear Bed & Breakfast on Sunday River Road in Newry. He later was interviewed by a neuropsychologist before resuming his post.
Besides Whitehurst, Nielsen is charged with killing inn owner Julie Bullard, 65, and her daughter, Selby Bullard, 30, and Selby’s friend, Cindy Beatson, 43, both of Bethel, when they arrived to check on Julie. Nielsen was living at the inn at the time while working as a short-order cook at a Bethel inn.
An October trial is scheduled.