PARIS – Christian Nielsen’s attorney said Thursday he wishes he could have had his client committed to a mental institution instead of spending the rest of his life in prison.

Ron Hoffman talked to reporters after Nielsen was sentenced in Oxford County Superior Court to concurrent life sentences for each of the four victims slain over Labor Day weekend last year.

While calling the sentence “just,” Hoffman said, “I’m disappointed because I feel he really needs to be in a mental health facility.”

In the end, it was Nielsen who decided to forgo a trial and plead guilty to the four murder charges.

“That’s his decision to make, and I respect it,” Hoffman said. He and Nielsen’s legal team will decide over the next couple of days whether to file an appeal.

Whether Nielsen gets mental health assistance will be up to the Maine Department of Corrections, Hoffman said. The courts no longer have jurisdiction over him since his plea and sentencing.

If Nielsen, who stands more than 6 feet tall but weighed just 111 pounds Thursday and has a history of fasting, were to become incompetent, he could be returned to the state’s mental health hospital in Augusta, Hoffman said.

Hoffman said his client’s actions are still baffling.

“When you have a guy with no record, with no history of violence, nice families … there is something insane …. No motivation. No nothing. Something’s gotta be wrong.”

Hoffman added that Nielsen would say, “Yeah, I did it. I don’t know why.”

No one in his family has been diagnosed with mental illness. His sister, who spoke in the courtroom Thursday, graduated from law school last year.

The yearlong case, the biggest of his law career, has been draining, Hoffman said.

“I’m tired, but I wish I could have done something to get his mental health properly diagnosed, which nobody seemed to be able to do, but everybody says it’s there.”

Usually such actions are preceded by other crimes that escalate, coupled with substance abuse, he said.

“None of it,” he said.

Nielsen started seeing a counselor after his parents noticed unusual behavior.

“But she couldn’t put a finger on what was going on either,” Hoffman said of the Farmington counselor.

She recommended neurological testing, but it was too late. Labor Day came too soon.

Nielsen had been depressed since being rejected by the Army. He suddenly couldn’t read.

“He was recognizing problems, but couldn’t fix ’em,” Hoffman said.

Records from when Nielsen had been committed at age 9 to a New Hampshire mental hospital couldn’t be found by Hoffman or prosecutors.

“Maybe there would have been something there that gave a little light that somebody else recognized when he was a little boy,” Hoffman said.

Although he has difficulty showing emotion, Nielsen made his ultimate apology in the form of his plea.

“He could have put the family through hell,” Hoffman said. “Having to show those pictures at that trial would have been too much for those families.”

Hoffman, who is required to review all the evidence, could only look at them once. “They were horrible pictures.”

Nielsen never asked about his options, Hoffman said, never looked for an out.

“Whatever his motivation, he did the stand-up thing. Never once backed down from saying, ‘I’m going to jail.'”

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