A jury will soon decide what happened on a dark Norridgewock road in the early hours of April 25, 2018.

The trial begins Monday for John D. Williams, who is accused of killing a Somerset County sheriff’s deputy that night. Cpl. Eugene Cole, 61, became the first Maine police officer fatally shot in the line of duty in three decades. Williams, 30, of Madison, was arrested after a four-day manhunt and has pleaded not guilty to a murder charge.

Cpl. Eugene Cole

The case has been highly publicized and closely followed. It was moved to Cumberland County because of the volume of news coverage in central Maine, but legal experts were still concerned about the ability to seat a fair and impartial jury.

Superior Court Justice Robert Mullen warned the 15 people – 12 jurors and three alternates – chosen last week to avoid reports about the trial so they can base their verdict solely on the evidence presented in the courtroom.

“Undoubtedly, there will be some type of media coverage about the case,” Mullen told the jury Tuesday. “It could be on TV, could be on the radio, could be in the newspaper, on social media, whatever. You need to basically shut that down, shut down your access. If someone in your house wants to watch the evening news, that’s fine. Just walk out of the room.”

Testimony should reveal more details about the shooting than has been disclosed so far, and the defense attorney has said Williams himself is expected to testify.

An affidavit says that friends dropped off Williams at a home in town that day around 1 a.m. He was carrying multiple bags and a bulletproof vest, and one woman in the car described him to police as “tweaked.” The group saw a Somerset County Sheriff’s Department vehicle near the home. Soon after the friends left, Williams called one of them and said he had shot a sheriff’s deputy in the head.

Police allege Williams then stole Cole’s pickup truck cruiser, drove to a nearby Cumberland Farms and stole cigarettes. He drove off but soon abandoned the truck. More than 200 law enforcement officers from multiple jurisdictions joined the search for him in the days that followed, and he was arrested shortly after noon on April 28.

Williams confessed to shooting Cole while he was interrogated by police. Defense attorneys later asked a judge to throw out all statements Williams made to law enforcement on the day of his arrest, arguing that he was beaten by police and experiencing severe withdrawal from opiates at the time.

The judge issued his ruling in April, one day after the one-year anniversary of the killing. Mullen decided that police did not coerce the confession and could use it at trial, but barred prosecutors from showing the jury a videotaped re-enactment of the shooting.

Mullen, who typically sits in central Maine, will also preside over the trial. He worked in private practice before he became a judge in Maine District Court in 1996. He moved to the Superior Court in 2014 and is now the deputy chief justice. He recently oversaw another high-profile case, in which he sentenced Luc Tieman of Fairfield to 55 years in prison for murdering his wife in 2016.

The Maine Attorney General’s Office does not comment on pending cases, and has not granted interviews about this one. The prosecutors on the case are Assistant Attorneys General Lisa Marchese and Leane Zainea.

Marchese, who has taken the lead role, is the criminal division chief. Since she joined the office in 1997, she has handled more than 100 cases that involve murder or manslaughter charges.

She is currently involved in the case against Christopher Murray, who is awaiting sentencing for the murders of a Millinocket medical marijuana grower and his wife in 2017. She is also one of the prosecutors on the case against Kandee Weyland Collind, who has asked a judge to withdraw her guilty plea to murder in the stabbing death of her ex-husband in 2017.

Zainea is handling charges against more than a dozen current defendants in homicide cases, including Julio and Sharon Carrillo, who are both charged with depraved indifference murder in the death of a 10-year-old girl in Stockton Springs last year.

The attorneys appointed to represent Williams are Verne Paradie and Patrick Nickerson, who are both from the same Lewiston law firm. Paradie, who is the lead on the defense side, is working on an appeal in another homicide. The defendant is Burton Hagar, who pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the death of his infant son in 1979. Paradie is challenging a judge’s ruling last year that the baby’s death was a homicide and not a case of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

In this case, Paradie has said he will ask the jurors to consider a lesser charge of manslaughter because Williams was intoxicated and using drugs at the time of the shooting.

“The state has charged Mr. Williams with intentionally and knowingly causing Cpl. Cole’s death,” Paradie said. “Our defense has always been and will be that Mr. Williams’ drug use and significant intoxication on the night of the incident affected his ability to form the intent necessary under Maine law to be guilty of murder.”

Family members said Cole loved music and playing guitar in his classic country band. He worked in the sheriff’s office for 13 years, and his son was also a detective there. Law enforcement officers came from all the New England states and from as far away as Texas and Florida to attend his funeral last year. The Norridgewock community has also remembered Cole by dedicating a bridge in his honor on what would have been his 62nd birthday and collecting food donations on the first anniversary of his death.

His wife, Sheryl Cole, has asked people to be respectful and kind to honor his life.

“My world changed when Eugene Cole came into it,” she said in a message to the Morning Sentinel upon the first anniversary of his death. “The magnitude of the change when he left it was nearly unbearable. This community has shown their love and support for me and my family in ways I can never repay. I am so very proud and thankful each time I see a poster, a car decal, a bracelet, a bridge, or anything with his image or name on it.

“These things never cause sadness. They fill me with pride. Pride for my husband, pride for his profession, and pride for this community. Mostly, I’m so proud and grateful for the family we have. Our kids are strong, determined individuals. They are kind and respectful to everyone. To honor Corporal Eugene Cole, follow in his footsteps. Be kind. Help your fellow man. It doesn’t matter what your job is, how big your house is, or how much you paid for your car. We are all the same race – the human race. Treat each other as such. Let this be part of his legacy.”

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