Somerset County Cpl. Eugene Cole was either on his knees or crouching and trying to stand up when the shooter leaned over him, held a gun to his neck and pulled the trigger, a former Bangor police detective and blood spatter expert testified.
Larry Morrill, now an investigator with the Maine State Fire Marshal’s Office, took the stand Thursday in the John D. Williams murder trial before Superior Court Justice Robert Mullen.
Morrill, who is trained in shooting analysis and reconstruction and often assists the Maine State Police’s evidence response team at crime scenes, took the stand on the fourth day of Williams’ trial at the Cumberland County Courthouse in Portland.
After Morrill’s testimony, the state rested its case.
The trial is less about whether Williams, 30, of Madison shot Cole — attorneys on both sides have agreed that happened — but rather about whether he intended to kill the Somerset County Sheriff’s deputy when he did so. The penalty for murder is between 25 years and life in prison. Under Maine law, a person convicted of murder in the death of an on-duty law enforcement officer may be sentenced to life.
Deputy Attorney General Lisa Marchese, who is prosecuting the case, said after Williams’ first court appearance that the state would seek a life sentence if he is convicted of murder. The defense is arguing that Williams was too impaired by drugs to form the intent to kill, so is guilty of manslaughter, not murder. The maximum sentence for manslaughter is 30 years.
Cole was the first Maine law enforcement officer to be shot and killed while on duty in 30 years.
Morrill testified that he went to the Norridgewock home where Cole’s body was found to examine the scene and gather evidence. He came to his conclusion based on the dirt and grass found on the back of Cole’s uniform shirt and pants, the dirt on the toe of his boot, the soot in the entrance wound, and the slightly downward angle the bullet took as it passed through Cole’s neck from right to left.
That supported what Williams told police — that Cole was on the ground because he slipped when Williams shot him.
Morrill found a spent casing from a .9 mm handgun in the grass in front of Cole, while the bullet was found behind him. Morrill theorized it hit the ground and ricocheted a few feet away.
Using a new computer software program, Morrill created a presentation for the jury that showed an adult male with what looked like a rod through his neck to show the direction of the bullet. It also showed the man going down and trying to rise from a kneeling and crouching position.
The computer program did not show a shooter, but in the well of the courtroom, just a few feet in front of the jury, Morrill and Maine State Police Sgt. Scott Ryan demonstrated how Williams could have come up behind Cole while he was trying to get up and shot him at very close range.
Under questioning by Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea, Morrill said that Cole could not have been standing up when he was shot.
“We never would have found the bullet if he had been upright [when shot],” Morrill said. “If he had been upright, the shooter would have had to have been 15 feet taller than Cpl. Cole to have that angle of the bullet.”
Patrick Nickerson, an attorney on the defense team, used his cell phone to record the demonstration for a possible appeal after co-counsel Verne Paradie of Auburn objected to it. Paradie argued that it was speculative and repetitive.
“I don’t think his testimony adds anything for the jury,” he said.
Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea countered that Morrill could testify to the position Cole was in, in relation to where Williams was, when he pulled the trigger.
Mullen ruled shortly before lunch that the jury could hear Morrill’s testimony.
“I think it helps tie some things together for the jury,” he said.
The only other prosecution witness Thursday was Maine State Police Detective Jason Andrews, who interviewed Williams on April 28, 2018, after he was arrested.
On Wednesday, Andrews played a video of that interview in which Williams allegedly confessed.
“I pulled away from him when he was trying to arrest me,” he said in the video, adding: “I just instinctively grabbed my pistol and pointed at him. I just made that choice.”
Under cross-examination Thursday, Andrews agreed that on several occasions, Williams said he did not mean to kill Cole and denied having a vendetta against him.
The defense called Maine State Police Trooper Tyler Maloon, who was at the small cabin in Fairfield when Williams was arrested. Maloon, who is trained to recognize whether a suspect is intoxicated on alcohol or drugs, testified that when arrested, Williams appeared to be “dope sick” or withdrawing from drugs.
The trial will resume Friday with one less juror. A female member of the jury was dismissed mid-afternoon after experiencing a coughing fit.
The defense will call two experts who will testify about the impact of drug withdrawal on an individual’s judgment, Nickerson said after court recessed Thursday. A decision about whether Williams will take the stand in his own defense has not yet been made, he said.
If Williams does not take the stand, the case will go to the jury Monday. If he testifies, it most likely will be Tuesday before deliberations begin.