John D. Williams, 29, pleaded not guilty to a charge of murder in the slaying of Somerset County Sheriff’s Deputy Cpl. Eugene Cole. Williams appeared in a Portland courtroom Tuesday afternoon for a brief arraignment proceeding alongside his attorneys, Verne Paradis, left, and Patrick Nickerson.

A Madison man pleaded not guilty Tuesday to a charge of murder in the case of the first Maine law enforcement officer shot dead in the line of duty in nearly three decades.

During a brief appearance in a Portland court, John D. Williams entered a not guilty plea to the charge arising from his alleged shooting of Somerset County Sheriff’s Deputy Cpl. Eugene Cole. A Cumberland County grand jury indicted Williams Friday, according to his lawyer.

Cole’s killing launched a manhunt that saw some 200 members of federal, state and local law enforcement scouring a rural portion central Maine for four days before arresting Williams in a heavily wooded area less than five miles from where the deputy’s body was found in the early hours of April 25.

Since his arrest, Williams has been held without bail at the Maine State Prison. The 29-year-old made his first court appearance in April wearing a bulletproof vest, but he appeared before Cumberland County Superior Court Justice Robert Mullen Tuesday afternoon clean-shaven and dressed in a dark suit and white shirt.

One of Williams’ lawyers, Verne Paradie of Lewiston, said he would waive a formal reading of the charge against him and the arraignment lasted mere minutes.

Following the hearing, Paradie said his client “seemed to be in good spirits” but that the results of the evaluations to determine whether he is mentally able to stand trial are not yet available.

“I know about as much as you guys know at this point,” Paradie told a group of reporters outside the courthouse, adding that he’ll get more information on his client’s case once discovery starts.

Deputy Attorney General Lisa Marchese, who is prosecuting Williams, said she is “very confident in the state’s case” and will be pursuing a life sentence. She declined to discuss Williams’ alleged motive.

When Williams was arrested, police told reporters they had caught Cole’s killer, and his friend told the Bangor Daily News that the 29-year-old had admitted to shooting the deputy. However, no motive for the alleged murder has been made public and how Williams and Cole came into contact after midnight remains a mystery.

[What we know about the shooting death of Cpl. Eugene Cole and the manhunt for John D. Williams]

On the day of Cole’s death, Williams had been scheduled to appear in a Massachusetts federal court to face gun charges. His fiancee was in the Somerset County Jail on drug charges unable to post bail.

“Bent out of shape” over the criminal proceeding, Williams had been on a “six-day crack bender” leading up to the alleged murder, according to his friend Christopher Williams. The two men are not related.

Cole died at the age of 61 after 13 years as a sheriff’s deputy. Following his shooting, Williams stole allegedly the deputy’s police truck, then drove to a gas station convenience store where he allegedly stole a pack of cigarettes before fleeing into the woods. Williams was arrested four days later.

He made his first court appearance at the Capital Judicial Center in Augusta, where a judge agreed to move the case from Somerset to Cumberland County. “We will, I believe, be able to get a fair and impartial jury,” Marchese said Tuesday.

If he is found guilty, Williams faces between 25 years and life in prison. Maine law allows a life sentence in cases where an on-duty law enforcement officer is murdered.

His trial is scheduled for May 2019 in Portland.

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