PORTLAND – A man charged with killing three women and a man over Labor Day weekend suffers from a personality disorder but not a major mental illness, the director of a state agency that oversees psychological evaluations in criminal cases said Monday.
Christian Nielsen, 32, is facing four murder charges in connection with three slayings at a bed and breakfast in Newry and one in a rural area of Upton. All the victims were connected to the inn where Nielsen had been living. The women’s bodies were found mutilated; the man’s burned.
Nielsen’s attorneys are hoping a judge will not allow incriminating statements he allegedly made to police as well as evidence derived from those statements at his trial in October.
At a hearing Monday in Cumberland County Superior Court, Dr. Ann LeBlanc, who heads the State Forensic Services, said Nielsen’s state of mind at the time of police interviews wasn’t skewed by mental illness or disorder.
“I don’t believe his schizoid and personality disorder played any role in his making those statements,” LeBlanc said after reviewing tapes of police interviews with Nielsen.
Defense attorneys have filed court documents indicating Nielsen will seek to show he is “not criminally responsible” because of his mental state at the time of the killings.
LeBlanc said Monday that Nielsen didn’t suffer from psychosis at that time. Had he been psychotic, it might have affected his thinking or perceptions, she said. He might have been delusional or hallucinated or heard voices. Those experiences don’t occur when someone has schizoid and personality disorder, she said, except possibly for very brief periods under extreme stress.
Instead, Nielsen’s disorder is marked by anti-social behavior and a distinct lack of emotion.
“There’s no evidence that at any time he has ever been psychotic,” she said, adding he was able to make decisions, albeit bad ones.
LeBlanc said after talking to Nielsen, she believed there was “something terribly wrong with him.”
She administered several tests, including a so-called Rorschach test, using ink blots to gauge his responses against normal interpretations.
Unlike most people, Nielsen tended to focus on a minor detail rather than the whole image, LeBlanc said.
“He had a difficult time seeing the forest once he keyed in on a particular tree,” she said.
A bearded Nielsen appeared in court wearing a gray and white striped shirt and blue jeans that hung from his bony frame. He is residing at the state’s Riverview Psychiatric Center following a fast that dropped his body weight dangerous low.
Also taking the stand Monday was the Maine State Police trooper who was first on the grisly scene where the three women’s bodies had been hidden, along with two dogs Nielsen allegedly killed.
Trooper Dan Hanson, 33, of Paris said he was beckoned by Nielsen’s stepmother when he arrived at the bed and breakfast. She told him “Chris” had killed some people and that her husband had found their bodies. She pointed out where Nielsen sat on a bench. Hanson confronted Nielsen, noting his clothes and boots caked with what appeared to be mud and blood.
Hanson said he asked Nielsen if he was Chris, then asked: “What’s going on?”
Nielsen cocked his head, then answered: “‘Well, I killed some people, Dan. I shot ’em all.'”
When Hanson asked when that happened, Nielsen said, “‘Well, it’s been a while.'”
It was then that Hanson recited the Miranda warning to Nielsen, advising him of his rights, Hanson said.
Later, while handcuffed and sitting in Hanson’s cruiser, Hanson asked Nielsen where another victim was hidden. Nielsen told him.
Hanson said Nielsen never told him he didn’t want to talk to police but insisted he would only tell them his story once. Hanson decided he would wait until a police detective arrived. Hanson also said Nielsen never said he wanted to talk to a lawyer, yet talked about the possibility of doing that. Hanson later drove Nielsen to a nearby fire station where he was questioned by police.
But on a video tape with audio recorded through the windshield of his cruiser, Hanson can be heard stating that Nielsen had invoked his right to counsel, meaning an attorney. Hanson testified he actually misstated what he meant to say.
Ron E. Hoffman, a defense attorney for Nielsen, said after the hearing that Hanson should have advised Nielsen of his rights immediately after his stepmother implicated Nielsen and never should have questioned him about the criminal investigation before Nielsen talked to a lawyer.
State Police Detective Jennifer King is expected to take the witness stand Tuesday as the hearing continues before Justice Robert E. Crowley.
Hoffman said Nielsen is likely to stay at Riverview until his trial starts, if he is deemed competent. A competency hearing is expected about two weeks before the scheduled trial date.
Nielsen has pleaded not guilty to shooting Black Bear Bed & Breakfast guest James Whitehurst, 50, of Bateville, Ark., on Sept. 1, 2006, in Upton; inn owner Julie Bullard, 65, in her bed on Sept. 3; and Bullard’s daughter Selby Bullard, 30, of Bethel and Selby’s friend Cindy Beatson, 43, of Bethel on Sept. 4 when they came to the inn to check on Julie.
At the time of the killings, Nielsen was living at the inn while working as a short-order cook at a Bethel business.