Defense attorney Verne Paradie said the more than 500 potential jurors he expected to file through the Cumberland County Courthouse on Monday is “the biggest [jury pool] I’ve ever seen.”
About 250 people were tapped to fill out confidential 40-question surveys Monday morning and another 250 were slated to come in the afternoon as attorneys seek to find 15-16 impartial jurors for the trial of John D. Williams, the 30-year-old Madison man accused of murdering Somerset County Cpl. Eugene Cole.
The court is casting such a wide net because of the intense media coverage that surrounded Cole’s death and the four-day manhunt for Williams that ended with his capture by police in the Fairfield woods about 13 months ago.
“There are a lot of preconceived notions about the case,” Paradie said Monday morning at the courthouse. “I think it’s unlikely and unreasonable to find 12 people who haven’t heard of the case.”
Paradie said instead he’s hoping to find 15-16 people — 12 in the jury and three or four alternates — who will bring an open mind to the trial and listen to the evidence brought by both sides.
Deputy Attorney General Lisa Marchese, the lead prosecutor in the case, said Monday morning that she cannot comment on the case.
After a day filling out questionnaires, Paradie said he expects “50 [percent] to 75 percent [of the potential jurors] to be cut after today.” The remaining jury pool will be whittled down over the course of multiple additional days, through questioning by attorneys and deliberations in conference chambers, with a goal of seating a jury for opening arguments on Monday, June 10.
Paradie, who is representing Williams alongside fellow defense attorney Patrick Nickerson, said he will seek an acquittal, but also ask the judge to allow the jury to consider the alternate charge of manslaughter, instead of murder.
A conviction of murder carries a minimum sentence of 25 years in prison, with a maximum sentence of life — which prosecutors have suggested they’ll pursue.
A conviction of manslaughter carries a charge of up to 30 years in prison, but has no minimum sentence.
Paradie said Williams’ drug use at the time of the killing left him unable to commit “knowing and intentional” murder.
“He’s a completely different person than a year ago,” Paradie said. “He obviously has regret and sympathy and remorse for what happened. It’s not our defense that he didn’t pull the trigger.
“There is really no good result for anyone,” he added. “But this should be a manslaughter case and not a murder case. … Mr. Williams was not acting rational that night, and he did not intend to kill Cpl. Cole.”
Williams has pleaded not guilty to murder and other charges in the shooting death of Cole in Norridgewock on April 25, 2018. Cole, who had served 13 years with the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office, was 61 when he was killed.
In a March hearing over whether to suppress Williams’ apparent confession to police, prosecutors played a video of detectives’ interview of Williams at the time of his capture. In that video, Williams reportedly told police he shot at Cole after the sheriff’s deputy showed up while he was trying to get into his stepmother’s house.
“I didn’t want to get arrested,” he told a detective in the video. “Grabbed my pistol and pointed it at him. Just made that choice.”
Williams then went on the run.
Police later allegedly found Williams hiding out in a small cabin in the woods near the Norridgewock border on April 28, 2018, after a four-day manhunt.
Superior Court Justice Robert Mullen ruled that all but about seven minutes of the video of Williams’ 96-minute interview with detectives would be admissible at trial.