PORTLAND, Maine — Attorneys for John D. Williams called only two witnesses to speak in his defense. He was not one of them.
In the opening moments of the fifth day of Williams’ trial for the April 2018 shooting of Somerset County Cpl. Eugene Cole, his defense team told Superior Court Justice Robert Mullen on Friday that the defendant would exercise his Fifth Amendment rights and decline to testify.
A social and forensic psychology professor and an addiction specialist told jurors on Friday that Williams’ drug use, exhaustion, hunger and isolation made him “irrational, destructive and self-defeating” in the days leading up to Cole’s shooting.
But a clinical and forensic psychologist called by the state told the jury that Williams had crafted a plan to get his girlfriend out of jail and then kill himself in order to protect his family from people with whom he dealt drugs.
Dr. April O’Grady, a professor at the University of Maine who has consulted in hundreds of cases for the state forensic services, took the stand just before 11:30 a.m. Friday.
“I found his thinking to be rational and reasoned,” O’Grady told Deputy Attorney General Lisa Marchese, who is prosecuting the case. “When you’re thinking about a rational decision in forensic psychology, you think: Is the decision reality-based, does the person understand what is going on around them? … and that decision has to make sense for that person at that time given the circumstances and what their goals are.”
O’Grady was the final witness for the prosecution, taken out of order on Friday, following the only two witnesses for the defense.
Defense attorney Verne Paradie has argued that Williams, 30, is guilty of manslaughter, not murder, because drug use prevented him from forming the intent to murder Cole on April 25, 2018.
The prosecution and the defense have agreed that Williams shot Cole, but the trial is about whether he intended to kill the deputy when he did so.
Paradie first called Brian Cutler, a social and forensic psychology professor at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, who said Friday that the isolation, pain, sleep-deprivation and fatigue Williams’ experienced would have affected his ability to self-regulate his thoughts, behaviors and emotions.
“When we’re really tired, we simply don’t think as well … we make more impulsive decisions than when we’re well-rested,” Cutler said.
Marchese, on cross-examination, asked Cutler to clarify that he was speaking generally and not offering an opinion on Williams’ state of mind.
The defense’s second and final witness, addiction specialist Dr. John Steinberg, testified by video.
Steinberg said he had not met Williams, but reviewed photos and transcripts, medical records and a report by the state forensic examiner.
Steinberg said Williams told several officials and medical caregivers that he used crack cocaine several times a day and used heroin intermittently.
Steinberg said drugs, sleep deprivation, malnutrition — Williams weighed 107 pounds at time of arrest, now 165 pounds — impair cognitive ability.
“His first priority was to take his drugs,” Steinberg said. “No. 2, he was chronically sleep-deprived, did not have a rational plan. He had a vehicle but he did not flee the state … even in his desperate state following this act, his focus was getting away so he could smoke some crack.”
Marchese challenged Steinberg’s conclusions that Williams’ behavior was “irrational, destructive and self-defeating.”
“At the same time, he managed to shoot the deputy and not be taken into custody, right?” Marchese asked. “When you’re talking about being rational, rational to who, you?”
Paradie also questioned O’Grady’s conclusions, noting that she interviewed Williams well after the effects of the drugs he had taken would have worn off.
He pointed out that O’Grady testified that Williams said he “felt his memory was in fragments,” and he said that following the shooting, “reality snapped back like a rubber band. In hindsight, I didn’t plan, I just pulled it.”
On Wednesday, the defense 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, detective Jason Andrews, who interviewed Williams on April 28, 2018, agreed that on several occasions, Williams said he did not mean to kill Cole and denied having a vendetta against him.
The state rested its case on Thursday following the testimony of former Bangor police detective and blood spatter expert Larry Morrill, now an investigator with the Maine State Fire Marshal’s Office, who is trained in shooting analysis and reconstruction and often assists the Maine State Police’s evidence response team at crime scenes.
Morrill testified that Cole was either kneeling or crouching and trying to stand up when the shooter leaned over him, held a gun to his neck and pulled the trigger.
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.
Marchese said after Williams’ first court appearance that the state would seek a life sentence if he is convicted of murder.
The maximum sentence for manslaughter is 30 years.
Court will reconvene Monday morning, when closing arguments are expected.
Watch the opening statements from John D. Williams’ murder trial