The highly publicized trial of the man accused of killing Somerset County Cpl. Eugene Cole began Monday morning in Cumberland County Superior Court.
John Williams led local and national law enforcement on a nearly four-day manhunt last April after Cole was found outside a home in Norridgewock, where he’d been shot to death. The question for jurors is not whether Williams killed Cole, but whether he did so with intent.
For Williams to be convicted of murder, jurors must decide beyond a reasonable doubt that he knowingly and intentionally killed Cole. In opening statements, Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea laid the groundwork for that case as she described what transpired when Cole and Williams encountered each other in the early morning hours of April 25 last year.
Williams was wanted on drug charges. Cole had been looking for him. While on patrol that night, Cole spotted Williams getting dropped off at a house in Norridgewock, so he pulled his sheriff’s truck over and got out to arrest him.
“As Cpl. Cole reached for the defendant to arrest him, the defendant jerked away and caught Deputy Cole off guard. Cpl. Cole lost his footing and he slipped to the ground,” Zainea said.
It was then that Williams brandished a handgun, she said, and shot Cole in the neck at such close range that lead from the bullet was later found on the collar of Cole’s shirt. Williams then allegedly fled in Cole’s marked truck and robbed a Cumberland Farms before heading into some woods on foot, armed with a two guns.
Those details, such as shooting someone at close range in an area of the body likely to cause death, Zainea argued, show clear intent.
“If the killing of Cpl. Cole was the result of an accident, then you wouldn’t arm yourself with a high-powered weapon such as a submachine gun and a 9 mm handgun with enough ammunition to load both and flee into the woods,” she said.
Williams evaded capture for nearly four days by hiding in a small cabin as more than 200 local and national members law enforcement searched for him. When he was found, he was gaunt, bearded, barefoot and barely clothed.
Williams appearance in court Monday was a stark contrast to the day of his arrest: He was clean shaven and wearing a dark blazer and glasses. In his opening statements, defense attorney Verne Paradie noted the difference in his client.
“Who you will see and hear is a completely different person than who existed on April 25,” he said.
Paradie told jurors that he doesn’t dispute most of the facts of the case. But he said Williams was using cocaine, heroin and other drugs virtually nonstop when he killed Cole. Williams’ level of intoxication, Paradie said, interfered with his ability to form intent.
“Mr. Williams could make decisions. It’s not our defense that he wasn’t functioning. It’s our defense that Mr. Williams did not intend to kill Cpl. Cole,” he said.
His intention, Paradie argued, was to avoid going to jail on drug charges. Paradie is seeking a lesser charge of manslaughter in the case.
Zainea, meanwhile, reminded jurors several times to apply “common sense and reason” when evaluating the intent of Williams’ actions last April.
Originally published June 10, 2019 at 2:47 p.m. ET.