Despite having set aside a full week to select jurors for the trial of John D. Williams, the jury is in place after just two days of questioning, WMTW television reported Tuesday afternoon.
Defense attorney Verne Paradie said more than 500 people were called to the Cumberland County Courthouse Monday to fill out surveys and face questions from attorneys as the court sought to find 15-16 impartial jurors — 12 to sit on the jury and three or four alternates.
“There are a lot of preconceived notions about the case,” Paradie said Monday morning at the courthouse. “I think it’s unlikely and unreasonable to find 12 people who haven’t heard of the case.”
The 30-year-old Williams, of Madison, is charged with murder in the April 25, 2018 shooting death of Somerset County Cpl. Eugene Cole.
The court cast a wide net for jurors because of the intense media coverage that surrounded Cole’s death and the four-day manhunt for Williams that ended with his capture by police in the Fairfield woods about 13 months ago.
Deputy Attorney General Lisa Marchese, the lead prosecutor in the case, declined to comment Monday morning, but told reporters after Williams’ arrest in 2018 that she was confident the court could seat an impartial jury.
“I’ve tried a lot of homicide cases and it’s always surprising to me how at the end of the day, the process works,” she said at the time. “We will be able to get a fair and impartial jury. … While people will have heard of the shooting, that doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t be fair and impartial.”
Paradie, who is representing Williams alongside fellow defense attorney Patrick Nickerson, said he will seek an acquittal, but also ask the judge to allow the jury to consider the alternate charge of manslaughter, instead of murder.
A conviction of murder carries a minimum sentence of 25 years in prison, with a maximum sentence of life — which prosecutors have suggested they’ll pursue.
A conviction of manslaughter carries a charge of up to 30 years in prison, but has no minimum sentence.
Paradie said that although the defense acknowledges Williams shot Cole, he didn’t intend to kill the sheriff’s deputy. He said he plans to argue, in part, that his client’s drug use at the time of the killing left him unable to commit “knowing and intentional” murder.