The Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Tuesday unanimously upheld the conviction and life sentence of a Madison man found guilty of murdering an on-duty Somerset County deputy sheriff in April 2018.
Justices rejected the defendant’s argument that an in-court demonstration by two law enforcement officers on how the shooting occurred were prejudicial to John D. Williams, 32, and should not have been presented to jurors.
The state maintained that Williams shot Cpl. Eugene Cole, 61, in the neck as the deputy was kneeling or crouching. Cole was trying to get up off the ground after falling backward while retreating as the suspect pointed the murder weapon at him.
The court found that Superior Court Justice Robert Mullen properly instructed jurors that the demonstration represented the prosecution’s version of how Cole was fatally wounded and not what actually happened when the deputy was shot.
A jury last year convicted Williams of the slaying in Norridgewock. The deputy was attempting to arrest Williams on a drug charge. Following the killing, Williams led hundreds of police officers on a four-day manhunt through Somerset County.
Cole was the first Maine law enforcement officer shot to death in the line of duty in nearly three decades.
Williams never denied shooting the deputy but his attorney argued at the trial that because of his drug use, Williams was unable to form the intent to kill the deputy and was guilty of manslaughter, not murder, as a result.
The penalty for murder in Maine is 25 years to life in prison. The maximum sentence for manslaughter is 30 years.
Williams’ attorney, Verne Paradie, of Lewiston, argued in the appeal that the judge did not properly consider all the mitigating factors before imposing a life sentence. Under Maine law, a judge may impose a life sentence in the murder of an on-duty law enforcement officer.
The justices said in Tuesday’s decision that: “There is simply no support in the record for Williams’s contention that the court disregarded his arguments in mitigation.”
Assistant Attorney General Donald Macomber, who represented the prosecution in the appeal, said his office was pleased with the decision.
“We hope that it brings some peace to the family of Cpl. Cole,” he said Tuesday.
Paradie said that plans to ask Maine’s high court to reconsider its decision.
“We are obviously very disappointed with the Law Court’s decision,” he said. “I feel [the justices] did not consider some of our arguments.”
Oral arguments on Wiliams’ appeal were held remotely on Sept. 15.