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The first police officer to reach John D. Williams in the Norridgewock woods to end a three-day manhunt last April said the accused killer resisted giving his hands up for cuffs, making it necessary to strike him in the face.
The testimony of Glenn Lang came Thursday during the first day of a three-day hearing in Portland on whether Williams’ apparent confession to fatally shooting Somerset County sheriff’s Deputy Cpl. Eugene Cole should be kept out of his trial.
Attorneys for Williams, 30, of Madison claim that Williams only made incriminating statements to police in the case because those who arrested him had previously “ beat and pummeled” him, and because of the effects of opioid withdrawal.
At the time of the killing, Lang served as supervisor for the Maine State Police Computer Crimes Unit, and took part in the search for Williams.
He told the court Thursday that on the day the suspect was found, April 28, Lang’s search team followed footprints to a clearing and small cabin in the woods, where police heard a loud “crash” and ultimately found Williams.
While another officer yelled for Williams to get down, Lang said he approached from another angle — from Williams’ left side — and was the first to reach him. He said Williams had begun to get on the ground in compliance with the officers’ orders.
Lang said he knelt on Williams’ shoulder “to ensure we could get the handcuffs on him.”
“He wasn’t really cooperative in terms of putting his handcuffs on,” said Lang during testimony Thursday. “I struck him two or three times to the left side of his head to get him to comply.
“I’m trying to get his handcuffs cuffed behind him,” he continued. “I started to fight with his left [hand] a little bit, I finally got that one on, and he wouldn’t give up his right one. … We used to call it ‘changing the channels,’ when someone is thinking about doing something, they may be starting to do something, and you make them think about something else, like, ‘I want them to stop hitting me in the face.’”
Lang said Williams also refused to lift his head for a picture requested by the search group’s command center off-site — “he tucked his chin down more toward the ground” — so the officer said he pulled his head up for that picture.
That image was later circulated by media outlets and showed Williams with a bruised face.
Lang said he did not hit or kick Williams once the man’s hands were cuffed and he did not see any other officer do so.
Special Agent Glen Lang of Maine State Police points out in court the cabin in the Norridgewock woods where accused killer John D. Williams was found last April after a 3-day manhunt. Context: https://t.co/DnaKMKHHNm pic.twitter.com/Z8nlvyPCLU
— Seth and the City (@SethKoenig) February 28, 2019
He said he didn’t verbally threaten Williams or see anyone else threaten him. Under cross examination by defense attorney Verne Paradie, he acknowledged another state trooper “might’ve said something as he put [a second set of] handcuffs on,” but said he couldn’t hear what was said.
FBI Special Agent David Scullion and Maine Game Warden Jeremy Judd, who were also on the search team which found Williams on April 28, described the approach to the cabin and arrest from their perspectives Thursday as well, broadly corroborating Lang’s testimony.
Although Judd said at one point he stepped on the suspect’s right hand to help subdue him, saying he stepped off when the arresting officer took the arm to handcuff it.
Both men testified they did not see Williams hit or kicked. They each said they were not aware of any request by the command team to take his picture.
Paradie told reporters outside the courthouse at the end of the day the officers’ testimonies raised questions about what happened with Williams’ right hand during the arrest. He said his client maintains he was kicked and threatened by the arresting officers, and will testify to that on the third day of the hearing — scheduled for April 8 — or later.
Paradie said Williams believed that “if he talked [to the detectives who later questioned him], they would prevent the other officers from carrying through with their threats.”
Earlier in the hearing Friday, Paradie called a doctor who specializes in addiction treatment and a psychology professor to testify, seeking to show that Williams was susceptible to making a false confession.
Brian Cutler, a social and forensic psychology professor at University of Ontario Institute of Technology, testified by video and said hunger, exhaustion and prolonged isolation — as Williams presumably experienced during his three days on the run from police — would cause a person to have difficulty making decisions and controlling his or her emotions.
Dr. John Steinberg, a Maryland doctor who also testified by video, said he reviewed photographs, video and documents related to the case, but did not treat Williams directly.
Steinberg said it was clear to him Williams was suffering from severe drug withdrawal at the time of his arrest, pointing in part to the fact that the suspect defecated himself.
Under cross examination, Marchese asked the doctor whether it may have been due to the stress of being discovered by police after more than three days on the run.
“It’s rare to have a suspect crap himself during an arrest,” Steinberg said. “The number of people who lose sphincter control and defecate on themselves in stressful situations — accidents, assaults, soldiers in battle situations — are quite limited.”
Marchese made the point that both defense witnesses were being paid for their input and testimony — that Steinberg was paid $450 per hour and Cutler was paid $200 per hour. The prosecutor also asked the defense witnesses to acknowledge that Williams himself told the questioning detectives that they treated him well, and that he said he was not suffering from opioid withdrawal at the time of the arrest, although Steinberg argued the suspect’s statements at the time should be questioned.
In June 2018, Williams pleaded not guilty to killing Cole, who was the first Maine law enforcement officer shot to death in the line of duty in nearly three decades. After his arrest, Williams allegedly told police he “eliminated” Cole because he was angry with the deputy for arresting his fiancee a few days earlier.
Paradie is arguing that Williams’ statements are inadmissible as evidence because they were obtained using “brutal physical force” and “coercive tactics.”
Paradie claimed in his motion that Williams put up “zero resistance” but was nonetheless kicked in the head and face “causing severe bruising.”
There is no timeline under which the judge must issue a decision other than the trial date. The second day of the hearing is set to take place Friday.