A special agent from the Maine State Police told a judge that he hit a man accused of killing a Somerset County sheriff’s deputy last year because the suspect resisted being handcuffed.

Cpl. Eugene Cole

That agent and other members of the search party that found John D. Williams testified Thursday at the Cumberland County Courthouse about the arrest that ended a four-day manhunt. But none of them described beating Williams to the extent alleged by his defense lawyers, who have said their client only confessed to the fatal shooting because he feared further violence and was weak from drug withdrawal.

Williams, 30, is charged with murder in the death of Cpl. Eugene Cole last April. Cole, 61, became the first Maine police officer fatally shot in the line of duty in three decades. The case was quickly transferred to Cumberland County Court in Portland because of extensive publicity in Somerset County. Williams has pleaded not guilty.

Defense attorney Verne Paradie has asked a judge to throw out all statements Williams made to law enforcement during his arrest and interrogation. A hearing on that motion began Thursday and will include multiple days of testimony.

According to court documents, Williams shot Cole during a confrontation in Norridgewock on April 25. He fled, and the resulting manhunt involved more than 200 officers from multiple jurisdictions. He was captured on April 28.

ARRESTING OFFICERS TESTIFY

Among the first witnesses to testify Thursday were three of the arresting officers who caught Williams in the woods in Fairfield. They described following footprints toward a camp, where they heard loud banging. Then they saw Williams, who was wearing only long john pants and collecting snow in a plastic bin. Their recollections of what happened next varied slightly, but they all said the arrest happened within minutes or even seconds.

Photo by Maine State Police taken on the day of the arrest of John D. Williams.

Special Agent Glen Lang described ordering Williams to get on the ground. He said he cuffed Williams’ left hand but struggled with his right.

“I struck him two or three times on the left side of his head to get him to comply,” Lang said.

Lang said he stripped the long john pants off Williams to search him, and he noticed Williams had defecated all down his leg. When the command center requested a photo to confirm the man’s identity, Lang said Williams resisted and tucked his chin into his chest. The special agent pulled his head up for a photograph, which was later leaked on social media.

Game Warden Jeremy Judd said he stood on Williams’ right hand to restrain him, and then he went to search the camp. He testified that he did not see anyone hit or kick Williams at any point. FBI Special Agent David Scullion also said he did not see anyone hit or kick Williams, but he did notice a welt on the side of his head.

Paradie later told reporters that those accounts contradict Williams, who says he was kicked, beaten and taunted. More officers are expected to testify Friday.

EXPERT WITNESSES

The defense also called two experts – a doctor who specializes in addiction treatment and a psychologist who studies interrogations – on the first day of the hearing. Both appeared by video in the Cumberland County Courthouse, and neither had interviewed Williams directly.

Dr. John Steinberg, an addiction physician based in Maryland, testified that Williams exhibited the symptoms of withdrawal from opiates and stimulants, including hunger, dehydration and exhaustion. He said Williams would have been desperate to alleviate those symptoms during his interview with police.

John Williams enters court Thursday for a motion to suppress his confession in the death of Cpl. Eugene Cole, a sheriff’s deputy from Somerset County who was fatally shot last year. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

“He’s very much aware that if he cooperates he will be able to get food, get water, be taken to a place where he can sleep,” Steinberg said.

Dr. Brian Cutler, a professor at the University of Ontario, said several factors could have reduced Williams’ ability to make decisions and control his emotions during the interrogation. He pointed specifically to isolation from the four days he spent hiding in the woods, as well as hunger, sleep deprivation and pain.

He also said Williams could have been influenced by earlier violence or suggestions that he could sleep soon.

“General incentives have a powerful influence on human behavior,” Cutler said. “If the suspect believes that he or she will get some desired outcome in exchange for a confession under certain circumstances, that would certainly affect the suspect’s motivations to confess.”

WITNESSES QUESTIONED

John Williams listens to his attorney Patrick Nickerson in court Thursday for a motion to suppress his confession in the death of Cpl. Eugene Cole. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

Assistant Attorney General Lisa Marchese asked both defense witnesses about Williams’ own statements that he understood his Miranda rights, declined further medical attention and described the interrogating officers as kind.

“You completely reject out of hand the words used by Mr. Williams himself in response to questions?” Marchese asked Steinberg.

“I reject his ability to properly characterize what is or is not withdrawal,” Steinberg said.

Marchese asked Cutler about the food the police gave to Williams early in his interrogation.

“The officers treated Mr. Williams in the interview with respect,” she said.

“I would agree with that,” Cutler said.

“They didn’t yell at him, did they?” she said.

“I don’t remember anything like that,” he answered.

Williams, who is scheduled for trial in June, did not speak during the hearing. He looked unrecognizable in the courtroom compared to the widely circulated photos from the day of his arrest. He wore a brown suit and gold tie. His hair was cut short, and his face was clean-shaven.

The hearing will continue Friday with more witnesses and a viewing of the videotaped police interrogation. Then Williams is expected to testify when the parties reconvene on April 8 for a final hearing day.

Megan Gray can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: mainemegan

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