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Cook pleads guilty to four slayings

Motive unclear in Maine case

Christian Nielsen entered a conditional guilty plea yesterday to four slayings in western Maine 13 months ago. Christian Nielsen entered a conditional guilty plea yesterday to four slayings in western Maine 13 months ago. (joel page/associated press)

PARIS, Maine - Family members of four people killed and dismembered 13 months ago won't have to go through the ordeal of a trial after a 32-year-old cook pleaded guilty yesterday to Maine's worst homicide case in more than a decade.

But there's little satisfaction for several family members who fear they'll never know what sparked the deadly rampage.

Juanita Whitehurst, mother of one of the four victims, expressed dismay as she left the courthouse after Christian Nielsen abruptly dropped his insanity defense and pleaded guilty to four counts of murder.

"He can't give me a motive for why he killed my son," said Whitehurst, who's from Arkansas. "He doesn't know."

Nielsen entered a conditional plea a day before jury selection was to begin in his trial on murder charges in the killings during Labor Day weekend in 2006.

Prosecutors say the killings started with the shooting of James Whitehurst, 50, of Batesville, Ark., a handyman who had been staying at the Black Bear Bed and Breakfast. His body was burned and dismembered and left in the woods in Upton, authorities said.

Two days later, Nielsen killed the Black Bear's owner, Julie Bullard, 65, prosecutors say. The following day, Labor Day, he killed Bullard's daughter, Selby, 30, and her friend, Cindy Beatson, 43, when they arrived at the inn unexpectedly, prosecutors say.

Assistant Attorney General Andrew Benson said Nielsen previously stated that he found Whitehurst to be "objectionable." The innkeeper was killed to cover up the first slaying, and it escalated when the two other women arrived, he said.

Questioned by Justice Robert Crowley, Nielsen agreed with Benson's characterization but he was unable to elaborate on why he killed Whitehurst. He said he had discussed the matter of motive with his legal team, and "we never came up with anything concrete."

Nielsen faces 25 years to life on each of the four counts of murder when he's sentenced on Oct. 18. But his plea came with a condition: Nielsen can withdraw it if he wins appeals of pretrial rulings that favored the prosecution.

The grisly murder scene at the bed and breakfast in Newry near the Sunday River ski resort was discovered on Labor Day after Nielsen talked to his father on the phone and told him that he was running the inn in Julie Bullard's absence, Benson said.

During that conversation, Nielsen told his father that he needed to borrow his father's chain saw, Benson said. That evening, his father called police after he and his wife dropped by the inn, found a trail of blood and discovered two of the bodies.

Benson said physical evidence linked Nielsen to the crimes, including blood found on a hacksaw, a hatchet, a pick ax, and a chain saw. Nielsen's handgun was found at the inn, and he confessed the killings to police. Nielsen was a long-term guest at the inn and worked nearby.

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