PARIS – Defense attorneys for Christian Nielsen, the 32-year-old Newry man who pleaded guilty to four murders last week, want their client to spend no more than 45 years in prison.

Nielsen’s sentencing by Justice Robert E. Crowley is scheduled for 9 a.m. today in Oxford County Superior Court.

In a sentencing memorandum completed Wednesday, attorneys Ron Hoffman and Margot Joly state that only 16 percent of Maine’s murder cases result in life sentences, while half lead to prison terms of 40 years or less. The attorneys list several mitigating factors that they believe support a shorter sentence.

Nielsen last week admitted shooting James Whitehurst, 50, of Batesville, Ark., on Sept. 1, 2006; Julie Bullard, 65, of Newry, on Sept. 3, 2006; Selby Bullard, 30, of Bethel, on Sept. 4, 2006; and Cindy Beatson, 43, of Bethel, on Sept. 4.

Assistant Attorney General Andrew Benson recommended that Nielsen serve three consecutive life sentences for the murders. Under state law, a life sentence must be justified by at least one of seven aggravating factors.

Benson argues that his proposed sentence is justified because the murders were premeditated, and Nielsen intended to cause multiple deaths. According to his memorandum, Nielsen, who was 31 at the time of the murders, told police that he had aspired to be a serial killer since he was 26.

Hoffman and Joly argue that the court is not required to impose a life sentence even if one of the aggravating factors is met, as long as significant mitigating factors exist.

“The defense acknowledges that Mr. Nielsen has a debt he owes victims, their families, and society for his actions; however this debt must be balanced against his mental illness,” their memorandum states.

According to the attorneys, Nielsen began seeing a counselor in 2005 who observed “depression, anxiety, and compulsive thoughts and behavior” in him. The defense says that state examiners determined Nielsen exhibits a “personality disorder not otherwise specified, with antisocial, narcissistic and schizoid features.”

They argue that the court must consider Nielsen’s mental health as a mitigating factor in the sentencing. They also argue that Nielsen will not receive the mental health care he needs in prison.

“The defense fears that Mr. Nielsen’s odd behaviors and eating disorder will be perceived as manipulative as it has been by Andrew Benson,” the memorandum states, “and will result in harsher punishment not treatment.”

The defense lists other mitigating factors, including Nielsen’s youth; his lack of prior violent behavior or violent criminal activity; his acceptance of responsibility for the crimes; his lack of a substance abuse problem; the “swift demise” and lack of suffering of the victims; and his employment at the time of the murders.

The state’s memorandum recognizes Nielsen’s decision to plead to the charges, but says Nielsen “can no longer claim to be young.” It also notes that several operating-under-the-influence convictions preclude Nielsen’s criminal record from being a mitigating factor.

The state also lists several aggravating factors in the case, including the impact of the murders on the victims’ families; the mutilation of the victims’ bodies; financial gain as a motive for the murders of the three women; a lack of motive in the murder of Whitehurst; the unnecessary killing of three dogs; and Nielsen’s anti-social personality.

While Benson stated that it was “chillingly likely” that Nielsen will re-offend, the defense memorandum disputes the claim. The defense attorneys cite a recent incident in which Nielsen did not fight back when attacked by another patient at the Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta as “proof that Mr. Nielsen can follow the rules and rehabilitation is possible.”

Six pages of the 11-page document review the outcomes of 18 murder trials in the state, whose sentences range from the minimum of 25 years in prison to the maximum of life in prison.

Nielsen was working as a cook in Bethel during the murders and renting a room in the Black Bear Bed and Breakfast in Newry. Nielsen said he shot Whitehurst, a guest at the inn, after inviting him on a fishing trip to C Surplus, an unorganized territory near Upton. He later dismembered, burned and buried the body.

Nielsen later shot Julie Bullard, the inn’s owner, and told his father, Charles Nielsen, that she had gone to California and left operation of the inn to him. He killed Selby Bullard, Julie’s daughter, and Beatson, her friend, when they came to the inn to check on Julie. All three bodies were mutilated.

Charles Nielsen discovered the bodies of the women in the nearby woods when he and Nielsen’s stepmother, Lee Graham, visited the inn on the same day as Selby and Beatson’s murders.

Nielsen was arrested there a short time later by state police called to the grisly scene.

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