The Maine attorney general's office has asked that Christian Nielsen, charged in the savage murders of four people over Labor Day weekend, be given a psychiatric evaluation.

The state submitted the request to Superior Court Justice Robert Crowley to help determine if Nielsen, 31, is competent to stand trial and whether he has the mental capacity to know right from wrong.

"That's the mechanism the state has to get the defendant examined as to state of mind and other mental issues," said Deputy Attorney General William Stokes.

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Nielsen is charged with four counts of murder in a killing spree near the Sunday River ski resort in western Maine. He lived in the area and worked as cook.

Nielsen is accused of killing James Whitehurst, 50, and burning and disposing of his body in the woods in the town of Upton on Sept. 1.

Two days later, he allegedly killed Julie Bullard, 65, the owner of the Black Bear Bed & Breakfast in Newry where Nielsen was staying as a boarder. The following day, Labor Day, he allegedly killed Bullard's daughter, 30-year-old Selby, and her friend, 43-year-old Cindy Beatson, when they unexpectedly showed up at the inn.

Police say Nielsen dismembered the women's bodies and has confessed to the slayings.

Nielsen's attorney, Ron Hoffman, said in a statement that by requesting the evaluation, prosecutors "must believe [Nielsen] is mentally ill."

Walter McKee, head of the Maine Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said a psychological evaluation is standard in many cases.

"What the state wants to know at the earlier moment possible is what is the defendant's state of mind, are they competent to go forward and what was the defendant's state of mind when the incident took place," McKee said.

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