PARIS – A judge has ordered that the 32-year-old man charged with killing four people in Newry and Upton last September will be boarded at a mental institution until his trial.
Christian Nielsen had been staying at the Cumberland County Jail in Portland.
In a July 9 e-mail to the parties involved in the case, defense attorney Ron Hoffman requested that Justice Robert Crowley order Nielsen held at the Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta until his trial, which is scheduled to take place in October.
Hoffman states in the e-mail that the parties intend to “insure (Nielsen’s) health and well-being concerning his weight issues…and to also assess any competency issues that will be reviewed prior to trial.”
Riverview Psychiatric Hospital is a state-run, 92-bed facility for the treatment of mental illnesses. It is also the only state-run forensic hospital in Maine, according to Riverview’s Web site, and provides psychiatric services to the correctional system.
Nielsen was initially ordered to undergo a mental health examination at Riverview in early May, after he lost 53 pounds over the course of his incarceration at the Cumberland County Jail. His stay at the center was not to exceed 60 days.
On July 12, Crowley ordered that Nielsen be committed to Riverview for another examination, and that his stay should not exceed 90 days. Under those terms, Nielsen may stay at the facility until mid-October.
Nielsen is accused of murdering four people between Sept. 2 and Sept. 4, 2006. According to law enforcement officials, he shot and killed James Whitehurst, 50, of Batesville, Ark., in Upton on Sept. 2; Julie Bullard, 65, of Newry on Sept. 3; Selby Bullard, 30, and Cindy Beatson, 43, both of Bethel, on Sept. 4.
The decision to hold Nielsen at Riverview has the added effect of releasing the Oxford County Jail from an inmate-swap arrangement with the Cumberland County Jail. After Nielsen assaulted another inmate in the Oxford jail in September, he was moved to the Cumberland jail, which had been charging fees for holding him.
Returning the favor
In February, the counties agreed to a prisoner-swap program, where Cumberland would cease charging Oxford County for boarding costs as long as the Oxford County Jail was holding a Cumberland prisoner.
The Oxford jail is boarding a Cumberland prisoner, but will not charge that county for his time there while Nielsen is at Riverview, said Capt. Ernest Martin, administrator of the Oxford County Jail. “I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that,” he added.
Martin said he appreciated that Maj. Francine Breton of the Cumberland jail agreed to the swap program. He also said the Cumberland jail was not obligated to agree to the program, which he estimates has saved Oxford County about $15,000.
“I certainly don’t want to burn bridges with Cumberland County, because they did us a huge favor,” said Martin of his decision not to charge Cumberland for holding one of Oxford’s prisoners. “It was a courtesy, and I wanted to return the courtesy.”
The county jail has been holding Eric Batchelder, 26, of Bryant Pond, since May 5. Batchelder is serving a six-month sentence out of Cumberland County for operating after habitual offender revocation, operating under the influence, failure to give correct name and address, and violation of conditions of release.
Martin said Batchelder is serving as a trustee in the jail kitchen in order to earn deductions on his sentence and that the Cumberland County Jail is paying for Batchelder’s prescription medication. He said these factors also contributed to his decision.
Assistant Attorney General Andrew Benson said he believes a jury for Nielsen’s trial will be selected on October 10.
“I have no reason to believe it will be anywhere other than Oxford County,” said Benson.
Martin said he is not sure at the moment who will be taking care of Nielsen during his trial, but believes he might be staying at the Oxford County Jail in order to facilitate communication between him and his attorneys.
“We wouldn’t integrate him,” said Martin.
If the State Forensic Service determines Nielsen to be suicidal, Martin says he will be placed in a holding cell where he will have one-on-one supervision. He may also be kept in a single cell, segregated from other inmates. Martin said the State Forensic Service will forward recommendations to the jail regarding concerns about Nielsen and any required medication.
Nielsen has undergone several mental health evaluations since his arrest. While the results have not been made public, Dr. Ann LeBlanc, who heads the State Forensic Service, testified at a hearing earlier this month that Nielsen suffered from schizoid and personality disorders, but not psychosis.
Nielsen told state police detectives during an interview that he committed the murders, and Crowley recently ruled the statements admissible as evidence.