GREEN RIVER — A 27-year-old Green River man has been sentenced to life without parole in the death of a 5-year-old boy under his care in November of 2019.
Christopher James Nielsen initially pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder charges in the death of Anthony “A.J” Radcliff in January 2020. However, he changed that plea to no contest in April of this year and was sentenced this morning in the Third District Court of Judge Suzannah Robinson.
Defense attorney Rick Helson said his client is disputing some of the information reported in the presentence investigation. In one section Nielsen disputes holding a woman’s head on the ground in an unrelated incident.
County Attorney Dan Erramouspe said he didn’t intend to question the woman at the hearing, and Robinson said she would not consider that portion of the PSI in sentencing.
Dr. Antoinette Laskey performed the initial consultation on Radcliff when he first arrived at Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City. She said she witnessed severe bleeding on his brain and pressure that was jeopardizing his life.
Laskey said there was concern about child abuse, and law enforcement reports later showed the Nielsen admitted to shaking the boy and throwing him on the bed. She said Radcliff’s injuries were consistent with the police reports.
Despite extensive efforts to save his life, Radcliff never regained consciousness over a two-week period and eventually succumbed to his injuries on Thanksgiving Day.
“Everything that could be done was done,” Laskey testified. “The fatal injury was the head injury.”
Defense witnesses Romy and Sterling Hess said they knew Nielsen since he was a young boy and testified to his character. They both said Nielsen was good with children and “they all loved” him.
Brenda Nielsen is the defendant’s adoptive mother and she testified that Nielsen fit right into her family. She did admit that he had some anger issues, “but I just attributed that to being a teenager.”
She said his anger issues never reached a level where counseling was necessary and that Nielsen never became violent with his own children.
Nielsen’s adoptive father Rick said “everyone who knows Chris can’t believe this happened.” He said Nielsen took an anger management class when he was in high school and participated fully in the course.
Victim Impact Statement
Erramouspe read the lone victim impact statement from Radcliffe’s mother, Vanessa Kidner.
Kidner said she never imagined something like this could happen to her son, and pulling A.J. off life support was “the hardest decision of my life.”
She said the emotional toll cost her a job, an apartment, and eventually her other son who has been turned over to the state for protective custody.
“You uprooted my whole life, and took away my whole world from me,” Kidner said in her statement. She urged the court for a life sentence without parole.
Erramouspe acknowledged that Nielsen didn’t intend to kill Radcliff. But the state has the authority to charge first-degree murder when a child is abused and the abuse rises to the level of death.
He said Radcliffe had developmental problems, was small for his age, and was “the weakest of the weak.”
“This was like hurting a puppy,” Erramouspe said. “Maybe A.J.’s life means something more than life with parole. Maybe it means life without parole in this case,” he said.
Helson said Nielsen “has something wrong with him” with a major depressive disorder that went undiagnosed. But he said Nielsen doesn’t have the tools to correct them. Helson said Nielsen hurt himself on several occasions by banging his own head against the wall to try to deal with his anger.
He asked the court to consider parole in the case so Nielsen could get the treatment he needs to deal with his issues.
Nielsen said he did not know he was killing A.J. when he shook him during his final statement to the court. He said he cries every night and has nightmares about the incident. He asked the family for forgiveness but said he understands if it’s not granted.
Judge Robinson broke from the proceedings for about an hour to consider the sentence. She noted that Nielsen does not have significant criminal, drug or alcohol issues.
Robinson said one of the most important mitigating factors in the case was that Nielsen took responsibility for his actions by changing his plea to no contest. His level of remorse also factored into her decision.
But Robinson added that the crime involved a particularly vulnerable child. She said Radcliff was a child who needed protection, and “it doesn’t get any worse” than killing him. She also talked about the effect his actions will have on Radcliff’s family for the rest of their lives.
Nielsen was remanded to the Sweetwater County Detention Center for transport to the Wyoming State Penitentiary. He will pay court fees but will not pay restitution to the boy’s family.