ROCK SPRINGS — Christopher James Nielsen has been sentenced to life in prison without parole on first-degree murder charges for the death of a 5-year-old boy in his care.
Nielsen’s argued sentencing hearing was conducted via video before Judge Suzannah Robinson on Thursday in Sweetwater County Third District Court.
Nielsen, 27, was arrested Nov. 14, 2019, and originally charged with aggravated child abuse due to injuries sustained by a boy in his care in Green River. The 5-year-old was transported to Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County and then flown to Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City. The boy 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.
After originally pleading not guilty, Nielsen changed his plea to no contest in April 2021. He admitted to losing his temper with the boy and shaking him. When the boy began to have a seizure, Nielsen said he shook him again to try and get him to wake up.
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 Stacy Willeitner, her fiance, in exchange for babysitting Kidner’s two children.
In announcing the sentence, Judge Robinson said the most aggravating factor of the crime was the vulnerability of the boy who died.
This child in particular was more vulnerable than most children his age due to developmental issues, Robinson said. Nielsen’s job was to care for him and protect him. There was evidence that the boy had already been abused, so that increased his need for protection.
Instead, Nielsen took everything away from him by taking his life.
“It doesn’t get any worse than that,” Robinson said. She noted that nothing the court does can bring back the boy. The court can only provide a measure of justice to the child, his family, and the defendant.
During the sentencing hearing, Sweetwater County Attorney Dan Erramouspe read a victim impact statement from Kidner, who said that she will never be whole again. A board-certified child abuse pediatrician who helped care for the boy at Primary Children’s Hospital testified about his injuries.
For the defense, testimony was provided by Nielsen’s adopted parents as well as two longtime family friends. The defense argued for a sentence of life in prison with the possibility of parole.
Nielsen also spoke before his sentencing, apologizing for his actions and saying that he prays for forgiveness even though he doesn’t deserve it.