IMAGE: Christian Nielsen
Joel Page  /  AP file
Christian Nielsen, left, is escorted out of Oxford County Superior Court in South Paris, Maine, on Sept. 5.
updated 10/9/2007 6:57:40 PM ET 2007-10-09T22:57:40

A former cook pleaded guilty Tuesday to killing four people during a bloody four-day rampage in western Maine's ski country but said he couldn't explain why he did it.

Christian Nielsen, 32, dropped his insanity defense a day before jury selection was to begin in his trial. He faces up to life in prison when he is sentenced Oct. 18.

The pleas spare the victims' families a trial full of grisly details in what state police have described as Maine's worst homicide case in more than a decade.

Juanita Whitehurst, mother of victim James Whitehurst, expressed dismay when she left the courthouse.

"He can't give me a motive for why he killed my son. He doesn't know," said Whitehurst, who traveled from Arkansas to attend the trial this week.

Nielsen admitted shooting to death James Whitehurst, 50, of Batesville, Ark., on Sept. 1, 2006, before partially dismembering him and burning the remains in woods. Whitehurst was a handyman who had been staying at the Black Bear Bed & Breakfast in Newry, a resort town in southwestern Maine.

Prosecutor Andrew Benson said in court Tuesday the only motive Nielsen ever gave for killing Whitehurst was that he was "objectionable."

Over the next three days Nielsen killed the lodge's owner, Julie Bullard, 65, her daughter, Selby Bullard, 30, and her daughter's friend, Cindy Beatson, 43, to cover up the killing of Whitehurst, Benson said. He used a chain saw, hacksaw and pickax to dismember the bodies, prosecutors said.

The grisly murder scene was discovered on the evening of 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. The father and his wife dropped by and called police.

Nielsen's handgun was found at the inn, and he confessed to the killings to police.

Nielsen said he can't explain why he committed the killings. He said he had discussed his motive with his attorneys but, "We never came up with anything concrete."

Psychologists outline disorders
Psychologists testified at a competency hearing for Nielsen last month that he suffers from schizoid personality disorder and possibly other mental health problems, including Asperger's syndrome, often described as a mild form of autism.

Nielsen's lawyers sought unsuccessfully to suppress the confession and to have Nielsen declared incompetent to stand trial. His guilty plea could be withdrawn if a court later decides that he is not competent to stand trial or that his confession is not admissible.

Defense lawyer Ron Hoffman said he recommended that Nielsen continue with a trial using an insanity defense in hopes of having him continue to receive treatment at a psychiatric hospital instead of going to state prison.

"He has a right to do what he wants to do," Hoffman said. "We respect that."

Dianna Taylor, James Whitehurst's sister, said she views Nielsen not as insane but as a calculating killer that she likened to the devil.

"When I first saw him on TV, he had this smirk on his face like, 'Look what I did, people,'" she said tearfully.

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