A Superior Court justice found Friday that police did not beat a confession out of the man accused of slaying Somerset County Sheriff’s Deputy Cpl. Eugene Cole, but threw out some statements John D. Williams made to investigators along with video of his re-enactment of the alleged crime.
Williams’ alleged statement to police that he “brandished the firearm” and shot Cole can be played for a jury at Williams’ trial in June, Justice Robert Mullen ruled in his 14-page decision. The video also shows Williams waiving his Miranda rights to have an attorney present during the interview, according to the ruling.
Williams, 30, of Madison has pleaded not guilty to murder and other charges in the shooting death of Cole in Norridgewock on April 25, 2018. Cole, who had served 13 years with the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office, was 61 when he was killed.
Williams’ attorney, Verne Paradie of Lewiston, had sought to suppress all of his client’s interview with police following his capture three days after Cole’s death. The capture followed an intensive manhunt that included law enforcement officers from across New England.
“We are very pleased that the court has held that a portion of Mr. Williams’ interrogation should be suppressed,” Paradie said. “We do still strongly believe that his waiver of Miranda rights was not voluntary during the entire interrogation, including the parts that were not suppressed, but we are pleased that the court agreed with us with regard to a significant part of the interview when Mr. Williams was asked to conduct a re-enactment of the event.”
It is the practice of the Maine Attorney General’s office, which is prosecuting the case, not to comment until a verdict is announced.
Mullen conducted a hearing in Portland on the suppression motion Feb. 28, March 1 and April 8. Paradie argued that Williams did not knowingly waive his rights because he was suffering from drug withdrawal and was sleep deprived during the interview.
The judge ruled that one hour, 28 minutes and 46 seconds of the 96-minute interview with police at the Waterville police station could be submitted as evidence, but everything after that should be suppressed.
The judge found that, for most of the interview, Williams appeared “lucid and rational, able to respond coherently to questions, and able to engage in a narrative account of the events in question.” Mullen also found that during the last few minutes of the interview and the re-enactment, Williams appeared weak, stumbled, dozed off and asked several times to sleep.
Mullen found that the punches inflicted on Williams by police at the time he was taken into custody were not coercive because they were “not inflicted to secure a confession.” He also said that “the defendant was taunted by certain members of the search party once safely apprehended.”
Within hours of Williams’ arrest, a photo appeared on social media and in some news outlets showing him shirtless on the ground with his left eye swelling and an officer’s fist holding his hair back for the camera. Police confirmed the photo was authentic at the time but later said it was never meant to be released publicly.
“The court rejects the rationale provided for the now infamous photograph of [the] defendant taken by a member or the search party, namely that a photograph was necessary to confirm that the defendant was indeed the suspect law enforcement had been searching for over three days,” Mullen said.
The judge added in a footnote that “every officer who was asked during the hearing stated that they were sure the defendant, once arrested, was the man they had been searching for.”
Mullen summed up the case in his concluding paragraph: “‘I know there’s no happy ending.’ Defendant uttered this to the detectives, his head hanging down, at approximately 46:11 of the video. Tragically, this statement is arguably the most accurate, and undoubtedly the saddest, statement made on the entire video of [the] defendant with the detectives.”
Jury selection in Williams trial is scheduled for June 10 at the Cumberland County Courthouse in Portland.
If convicted of murder, Williams faces 25 years to life in prison. Under Maine law, a life sentence may be imposed when an on-duty law enforcement officer is slain.