A jury found a Madison man guilty of murder in the fatal shooting of a Somerset County sheriff’s deputy last year.

Cpl. Eugene Cole

John D. Williams, 30, showed little emotion at the announcement of the verdict Tuesday. When Williams stood to leave, his attorney clasped his shoulder and whispered in his ear. Williams poured water from a pitcher into a small plastic cup, drank it all and followed the jail guards out of the courtroom.

The family of Cpl. Eugene Cole sat in the front row, and his daughter nodded silently each time a juror responded “yes” to the clerk’s poll about the guilty verdict. The six women and six men deliberated for less than three hours.

Outside the Cumberland County Courthouse, the family stood close together as Cole’s brother addressed reporters. He thanked the prosecutors, the investigators, the jurors and the broader community.

“Hopefully, we’ll start to sleep at night again,” Tom Cole said. “Maybe it won’t be out there as much. Maybe some of the wounds can start healing.”

Cole’s wife wore a black T-shirt with her late husband’s name on the back. When Deputy Attorney General Lisa Marchese joined the family outside the courthouse, the two women hugged.

Marchese said she is grateful to the jurors for their guilty verdict and intends to seek a life sentence for Williams. She said his confession to police in a videotaped interview on the day of his arrest was the most compelling piece of evidence, but the forensic testing that determined the closeness of the gun was also important to the case.

“We never know what goes on in the mind of anyone, and we wanted to make sure that the jury understood that by putting the (gun) up against the neck of Cpl. Cole, he intended to kill him,” she said. “This wasn’t just a confused, drugged-out person. He did what he wanted to do.”

Tom Cole, brother of Somerset County Sheriff’s Cpl. Eugene Cole, speaks with the media after the trial of John D. Williams Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Defense attorney Verne Paradie told reporters outside the courthouse that he plans to appeal. He said he was concerned that the judge allowed the jury to watch a portion of that police interview with Williams on the day of his arrest, as well as an expert’s reenactment of the shooting during the trial.

“It was a tough case to defend all along, and we knew that,” Paradie said. “It’s not surprising. It’s definitely disappointing.”

A small knot of people sat in the back of the courtroom apart from other onlookers. One of the women mouthed a message to Williams as he walked out of the courtroom – “I love you” – and began to cry once he was gone. She later identified herself as his aunt but did not give her name.

“It’s a tragedy all around,” she said as the group left the courthouse.

The jury listened to more than two dozen witnesses during five days of testimony in the trial.

“This was a well tried case,” Superior Court Justice Robert Mullen said as the jury began its deliberations.

Defense attorney Verne Paradie puts his arm around John D. Williams on Tuesday moments after the jury found Williams guilty of murdering Cpl. Eugene Cole. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Cole, 61, was the first Maine police officer fatally shot in the line of duty in three decades. Williams, now 30, pleaded not guilty to the murder charge. He admitted to firing the single shot that killed the sheriff’s deputy that night in Norridgewock, so the central question for the jury was about his state of mind at the time.

The prosecutors argued Williams intended or at least knew he would kill Cole, which is a necessary element for a murder conviction. The defense attorneys said he was too intoxicated from drug use to think on that level. They asked the judge to instruct the jury on the lesser offense of manslaughter, which requires a reckless or negligent state of mind. The possible sentence for murder is 25 years to life, while manslaughter is capped at 30 years.

The judge explained both laws to the jurors before they began their deliberations. He also said that evidence of intoxication may raise a reasonable doubt about state of mind.

“The ultimate question is not whether Mr. Williams was intoxicated, but whether the state has proven that he acted intentionally or knowingly when he caused Eugene Cole’s death,” Mullen said.

The attorneys used their closing arguments Tuesday to outline their different theories about what happened in the early hours of April 25, 2018.

The prosecutor said forensic evidence and expert testimony showed Williams shot Cole at very close range while the sheriff’s deputy was on the ground. That position was one of the factors they cited as evidence that Williams intended or knew he would kill the deputy.

Deputy Attorney General Lisa Marchese speaks with the press after the verdict. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Marchese read from the transcript of a police interview with Williams in the hours after he was found in the woods. Williams told Maine State Police Detective Jason Andrews he resented Cole and didn’t understand why he was being arrested. He told Andrews he pulled out his gun and Cole fell while trying to retreat.

“And then what?” Andrews asked.

“I, uh, decided to, uh, eliminate him,” Williams said.

Marchese paused when she finished reading their exchange.

“If there is any doubt in your mind that the defendant was acting intentionally, that statement alone speaks volumes,” Marchese said.

The defense attorney argued Williams would have had Cole’s blood on him if he had fired the gun so close to his head, but none was discovered in the truck he stole or the firearm itself. He also said Williams made statements to a friend, the police detective and a psychologist that suggest he acted out of instinct rather than intent. And the attorney recalled testimony about Williams using drugs constantly, even in the minutes before the fatal shooting.

Paradie compared Williams to a heart surgeon who was impaired and fatigued on the job.

Defense attorney Verne Paradie speaks with the media after the trial. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

“A heart surgeon may be impaired or fatigued and intentionally opens up a person to perform heart surgery and intentionally manipulates his or her tools to conduct that surgery,” he said. “But if that person harms the individual they are performing surgery on, would we say they did that knowingly and intentionally?”

Both attorneys also referenced the arrest on the fourth day of a sweeping manhunt.

Paradie said Williams was harmed and taunted by the law enforcement officers who found him in the woods. He suggested Williams added more detail to his interview with Andrews in order to get food and sleep.

“This was a man who was just trying to get his needs met,” Paradie said. “You’re the ones who get to decide the reliability of what he told the officers.”

Marchese told the jurors they might not like what happened during the arrest, and she said some people would consider it a “black mark” on the investigation. But she said the officers were tracking a man they believed to be armed, suicidal and responsible for the death of a sheriff’s deputy. She also said the recordings of the interview show that Andrews was not one of the arresting officers, and he did nothing to coerce or threaten Williams during their interview.

“There is just nothing to suggest that this defendant confessed to Detective Andrews out of fear,” she said. “There is no evidence to suggest that Detective Andrews gave the defendant food in exchange for information.”

The prosecutors from the Maine Attorney General’s Office called the majority of the witnesses at trial. They included law enforcement officers who found Williams in the woods, friends who used drugs with him, and the woman who took Williams in during high school and discovered Cole’s body in her yard that April morning. Two experts also testified about Williams’ extensive drug use, but disagreed on his ability to think and reason at the time of the shooting. Williams did not take the stand.

Within the first two hours of deliberations, the jury sent out a note and asked to rewatch a portion of the camera footage from Cole’s cruiser. They do not need to share the reason for their question. They returned to the jury box, and the court officer dimmed the lights.

The video was just minutes long and did not include sound. The vehicle pulled into the driveway on Mercer Road and stopped. The view is from the front of the cruiser, but the darkness of the night meant nothing was visible beyond the scope of the headlights.

The camera never captured Cole getting out of the truck, but within two minutes, Williams appeared on the screen. Carrying a bulky bag in his arms, he sprinted through the light to the driver’s side door.

The jury watched the clip in silence and then left the courtroom again. Thirty minutes later, they had a verdict.

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