Among the most heinous crimes in recent Maine history was the April 2018 murder of Cpl. Eugene Cole, the Somerset County sheriff’s deputy who was shot by a drug addict attempting to elude capture.

Though the murderer, John Williams of Madison, was recently given a life sentence for the crime, we’ve heard relatively little about the profound grip that illicit drugs had on Williams’ life.

John Balentine, a former managing editor of the Lakes Region Weekly, lives in Windham.

He took drugs, dealt drugs and hung around with other drug addicts. Drugs – all kinds, according to reports – didn’t force Williams to shoot Cpl. Cole, but they led him down a dark road that ended with Cole’s murder.

There’s a lesson in all the sadness, and it came on sentencing day from Williams’ mother, Marjorie Wilbur. During the hearing, she spoke of the good son she used to know. She said Williams was a joke-telling, happy kid, but all that changed when he started taking drugs.

“I honestly believe that if John had not been on drugs, he never would have fired that one shot that changed so many lives,” she said. “The drugs changed him so much; my son was gone.”

Echoing Wilbur, Williams’ defense attorney Verne Paradie told the media, “We believe that John Williams would not have ever committed this act if he had not chosen the path of excessive drug use.”

Two photographs of Williams are worth remembering. Who can forget the police photo following the massive, three-day manhunt? Williams resembled a wild animal, shirtless with arched neck and collar bones protruding as he stared soullessly at the camera.

Compare that image with a photo of Williams on sentencing day. The 31-year-old looked sober, normal, handsome even. Sobriety made all the difference.

Some argued Williams should have received a less severe sentence because he was under the influence while shooting Cole. While it’s probably true none of this would have happened without drugs, Williams deserves everything coming to him.

Williams deserves life in prison because he willingly chose to play with fire, the drug lifestyle. That life doesn’t choose you; you choose it. Addicts are not victims; they are active participants in their own and others’ demise. They choose it. They will it. And they do so with their first inhale, snort or needle prick.

We don’t often hear this message in today’s coddling and lenient world. Williams, as are most addicts, wasn’t an innocent victim of addiction; he chose to take illegal substances and now must accept the consequences.

I hope people remember this story. They’ll remember Cole’s sacrifice but they’ll probably forget Williams’ drug-induced, years-long downward spiral that ended with the corporal’s death. Perhaps Williams’ mother, who was eloquent on sentencing day, should visit schools, community centers and substance abuse meetings. Maybe she could scare people straight with her son’s story.

The daily news delivers countless instances of how drugs ruin lives. Rarely, however, are the stories accompanied by quotes from the perpetrator’s mother pointing out where the child went wrong many years before. Wilbur wasn’t blaming drugs for pulling the trigger; she helped us realize the origins of her son’s wicked act by spotlighting his drug-obsessed lifestyle.

The mother spoke truth. She didn’t make excuses. She made it clear Williams stubbornly chose the drug lifestyle. Our culture should say such things, that addicts choose their miserable life. Instead, the message is often that addicts are victims.

The honorable Cpl. Cole will never be forgotten. But Williams should also never be forgotten. His shattered life is a tragic and sobering lesson in how choosing drugs ruin lives.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: