ROCK SPRINGS — Christopher James Nielsen pleaded no contest April 22 to first-degree murder charges for the death of a 5-year-old boy in his care.
Nielsen, 27, entered his plea via video before Judge Suzannah Robinson in Sweetwater County Third District Court. Thursday morning’s hearing was originally scheduled to be a pretrial conference for the trial set to begin in May.
Argued sentencing will be conducted at a later date.
By pleading no contest, Nielsen faces the same penalties as a guilty plea. He is facing up to life in prison without parole and a fine of up to $10,000 for the first-degree murder charge. There is no plea agreement in the case, and the prosecution is not seeking the death penalty. Nielsen will be held without bond at the Sweetwater County Detention Center while awaiting sentencing.
Nielsen originally pleaded not guilty during his arraignment in January of 2020 in District Court.
He was arrested Nov. 14, 2019 for alleged aggravated child abuse with serious bodily injury. The Green River Police Department responded to a medical call at an apartment on Bridger Drive on Nov. 11, 2019, about a 5-year-old boy suffering from what appeared to be a seizure. Nielsen had been babysitting the boy at the time, according to court documents.
The boy was transported to Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County and then flown to Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City. The 5-year-old died on Nov. 28, 2019, due to excessive brain trauma, according to court documents. The aggravated child abuse charge was dismissed and the first-degree murder charge filed after the boy died.
Nielsen had lived in Sweetwater County for just short of a week before the boy was hospitalized. He was staying with Vanessa Kidner, the mother of the boy who died, and her fiance, Stacy Willeitner, in exchange for babysitting Kidner’s two children.
During Thursday’s change of plea hearing, Nielsen agreed to go under oath to answer questions about the crime. He told Judge Robinson that he lost his temper with the boy and shook him by the shoulders. When the boy began to have a seizure, Nielsen said he shook him again to try and get him to wake up. When the boy did not regain consciousness, Nielsen sought help.
When asked why he lost his temper, Nielsen said the boy would not eat when he was told to and kept saying he wanted to watch TV. Nielsen also told the judge that on the day of the incident he had been feeling stressed from a lack of sleep and other problems in his life.