The state’s lead prosecutor told the jury Tuesday morning that John D. Williams “knew exactly what he was doing” when he shot and killed Cpl. Eugene Cole in the early morning hours of April 25, 2018.
“John Williams knows exactly what happens when you put a .9 mm to a person’s neck and pull the trigger,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Marchese told jurors during her nearly 40-minute closing argument Tuesday morning. “The target is eliminated.”
Marchese used the term “eliminated,” because jurors heard Williams tell detectives he “eliminated” Cole in a recorded interview.
On the seventh day of Williams’ murder trial, both the defense and prosecution rested and delivered their closing arguments.
The death of Cole, who was the first Maine law enforcement officer fatally shot in the line of duty in nearly 30 years, and ensuing four-day manhunt for Williams garnered intense media coverage.
The fact that Williams shot and killed the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office deputy was not disputed in the seven-day trial. Rather, Williams’ defense team argued that he was so impaired by drugs at the time he couldn’t have formed the intent to kill Cole when he pulled the trigger.
If jurors agree he didn’t intend to kill, they can find him not guilty and potentially downgrade the charge from murder to manslaughter.
A murder conviction carries a sentence of between 25 years and life in prison, while a manslaughter conviction has no minimum sentence and a maximum term of 30 years.
Williams, 30, pleaded not guilty to murder.
“Yes, this defendant’s life was in absolute chaos. Chaos he brought upon himself by a series of bad choices,” Marchese said during her closing argument. “Bad choices have consequences, and the defendant’s choice to eliminate Cpl. Cole, who was just doing his job, has the consequence of being found guilty of murder.”
Prosecutors called a range of law enforcement officers and forensics specialists to testify that, based in part on the gunpowder marks left on the entrance wound on Cole’s neck and lead found on his uniform collar, Williams shot the deputy at contact range.
Under the definitions in Maine law, defendants can be found guilty of “knowing and intentional” murder if they “can be practically certain” their actions would cause death.
Prosecutors played a nearly 90-minute video of detectives interviewing Williams on the third day of the trial.
“I pulled my pistol,” Williams says in the video. “I got the jump on him. I shot him.”
“Where did you shoot him,” one of the detectives asks.
“I shot him in the head,” Williams answers.
The prosecution also called witnesses who interacted with Williams during the hours before and after the crime, including two current or former friends and a convenience store cashier, who testified that Williams was able to steal and drive away Cole’s police truck, among other actions.
A former friend, Christopher Williams, no relation to the defendant, testified for the prosecution that John Williams was a knowledgeable and responsible gun owner.
Marchese said during her closing argument Tuesday that familiarity with his firearms proved John Williams knew how to use them lethally.
“This man knew exactly what he was doing,” she told jurors.
Prosecutors hoped those testimonies would sway the jury that Williams was not so impaired at the time he couldn’t have understood the close-range shot would be fatal.
Defense attorney Verne Paradie disputed that Williams was at “contact range” when he shot Cole, saying during his closing argument the deputy’s blood would’ve been on the handgun or the police truck steering wheel, which Williams stole after the crime, had he been as close as prosecutors said.
During the trial, defense attorneys called only two witnesses: a forensic psychology professor and an addiction specialist, who 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.
“Nobody has claimed Mr. Williams, when you’re as high as he was, can’t function,” Paradie said during his closing argument Tuesday, adding that jurors just need to agree that Williams didn’t understand that the shot would be fatal in the “instant” he pulled the trigger in order to find him not guilty of murder.
“He told [state forensic expert] Dr. April O’Grady, ‘It was like I was watching another person … then after the shot, I snapped back into reality like a rubber band,’” Paradie told the jury.
While the two sides disagreed whether Williams knowingly or intentionally killed Cole, the timeline of events was largely undisputed.
Under the prosecution’s timeline — which went unchallenged by the defense — Williams was attempting to get into a Mercer Road home in Norridgewock in the early morning hours of April 25, 2018, where he’d previously been living.
Cole — who had recently encountered Williams on a traffic stop in which drugs were allegedly found in the vehicle and Williams’ girlfriend, the driver, was arrested — approached to arrest Williams as well.
Williams pulled away from Cole, took out his Ruger .9 mm handgun and fatally shot the deputy in the neck.
Williams then stole Cole’s police truck and went on the run, starting a nearly four-day manhunt that ended on April 28, 2019, when police found him hiding in a small cabin in the Fairfield woods near the Norridgewock town line.
Williams’ defense team sought to downplay the video of his interview with detectives, arguing that police “beat and pummeled” him after finding him in the woods and that Williams only confessed to the crime to avoid further abuse.
But Superior Court Justice Robert Mullen ruled the video was admissible after a multi-day hearing in late February-early March.
Glenn Lang of the Maine State Police acknowledged on the witness stand that he hit Williams “two or three times” in order to get handcuffs on the suspect as quickly as possible. Marchese said during her closing argument Tuesday that Williams was heavily armed and had already killed one police officer at the time, and that the arresting officers didn’t know whether there was an accomplice somewhere in the area.