John D. Williams stands with his attorney, Verne E. Paradie Jr., left, during a hearing in Portland on April 8. Williams, 29, of Madison, is charged in the shooting death of Cpl. Eugene Cole in the early hours of April 25 in Cole’s hometown of Norridgewock. Williams’ trial is tentatively scheduled for June 2019. Portland Press Herald photo by Derek Davis

A judge Friday ruled that detectives did not coerce most statements made by the man charged with killing a Somerset County sheriff’s deputy last year, but said a controversial photo taken by police of the man during his arrest was not necessary and “taunted” him.

In his 14-page ruling, Superior Court Deputy Chief Justice Robert Mullen said the statements 29-year-old John D. Williams made to detectives for roughly the first hour and a half of his taped interview were voluntary and won’t be thrown out at his trial for the murder of Cpl. Eugene Cole of Norridgewock on April 28, 2018.

But Mullen ruled that Williams’ statements after he left the Waterville police station, including a re-enactment of the shooting and statements he made during a cigarette break and during his ride to the state prison in Warren, were not voluntary and can’t be used at trial.

Mullen wrote that there was “virtually no evidence” that Williams’ sustained drug use caused physical and mental impairment during his interrogation.

The judge wrote that any physical abuse suffered by Williams at the hands of his captors “was not inflicted in order to secure a confession.”

He also wrote that he didn’t believe law enforcement officials “beat and pummeled” Williams or “kicked (him) in the head and face … and caused severe bruising” while he was in custody, as Williams had alleged in his suppression motion.

But Mullen wrote that he did find that Williams “was punched in the face at a time when he was handcuffed and offering no significant resistance,” adding that the act may have been inadvertent because the officer who struck Williams may not have known he was unable to resist.

Maine State Police said shooting suspect John D. Williams was uncooperative so they had to hold him in place for this photo during his arrest April 28, 2018. Maine State Police photo

Mullen also wrote that he believed certain members of the search party that found Williams “taunted” him after he was safely apprehended. “The court rejects the rationale provided for the now infamous photograph of the defendant taken by a member of 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 wrote.

In Williams’ motion to suppress his statements, his attorneys had written that officers had held up his head “by the back of his hair like a game trophy.” A photograph taken at that moment and released publicly sparked controversy.

Attorneys for Williams had sought to have his alleged confession thrown out, arguing it had been coerced by officers who’d beaten him and that he feared further physical violence if he didn’t cooperate with the officers who interrogated him.

Mullen heard testimony on the suppression motion during a hearing in Cumberland County Superior Court in Portland that lasted three days, ending April 8.

A grand jury indicted Williams on a murder charge on June 7 in the shooting death of Cole. Williams was arrested three days later, after a manhunt in a wooded area of Norridgewock.

Searchers discovered Williams outside a vacant camp. He was barefoot, bare-chested and wearing only long underwear, and appeared to be in the process of going to collect snow for drinking water, according to Mullen’s decision.

Williams obeyed orders to lie face-down on the ground. His hands were cuffed behind his back. He was held down, naked, for 15 to 20 minutes while the search party made arrangements for his transport, according to the judge’s order. His walk out of the woods took about 15 minutes, Williams still barefoot and naked most of the way, Mullen wrote. He was covered with a blanket before he was taken to a command post.

Two state police detectives drove him for roughly 20 minutes to the Waterville Police Department. It was at that police station that the 96-minute videotaped interview took place with the detectives.

The detectives talked to Williams on the trip to the station. He answered, “Yes,” and, “No,” to their questions.

At the station, one of the detectives read Williams his rights from a Miranda card at 9 minutes and 26 seconds into the videotaped interview, which Williams appeared to understand, Mullen wrote. Sixteen minutes and 30 seconds into the interview, Williams was given a blanket to put over his shoulders and torso.

Less than 20 minutes into the taped interview, Williams summarized his interaction with Cole, concluding: “at which point I brandished the firearm, and ah, shot David Cole.” Williams mistakenly referred to Cole as “David” instead of “Eugene.”

A couple of minutes later, Williams was given food, fruit punch and clothing.

Mullen wrote that Williams didn’t “exhibit any fear or resistance to speaking with the detectives while they asked him questions concerning the shooting or at any other time during the questioning.”

Mullen wrote that Williams “does not decline to answer any questions posed to him by the detectives, nor does he answer any question in an incoherent or nonsensical manner.” The video does not disclose any bizarre, psychotic or drug-induced behavior on the part of the defendant, who appears to be rational and responded to questions with appropriate answers, the judge wrote.

More than an hour into the interview, one of the detectives asked Williams if he’d be willing to perform a “walk-through” of what happened on the night of Cole’s shooting. Williams said he wanted to sleep.

Williams was taken outside the station to the parking lot, where he was read his rights again, Mullen wrote. Williams participated in a re-enactment of the crime and has a cigarette break. He was then taken to the Maine State Prison in Warren, Mullen wrote, ruling statements during the re-enactment and ride to Warren would not be admissible.

Williams can’t appeal the judge’s decision on his motion until after trial; prosecutors may file an appeal before the trial.

Lewiston-based defense attorney Verne Paradie said he and his client are disappointed with Mullen’s ruling to allow at trial the videotaped interview in the Waterville police station.

Paradie said Williams was in the same physical and emotional state during the taped interview as he was after the interview when he was asked to participate in a re-enactment of the crime. If the judge decided the latter statements shouldn’t be allowed because of Williams’ physical and mental condition, then his earlier statements also should be thrown out, Paradie said.

“We think it was the same all the way through,” he said. “The conditions of the interview: He was tired, he was hungry, he was in pain, he was in fear, and all of those things we think are the same as existed at the time before he went outside to give the re-enactment.”

When a trial jury views the video of the early part of the interrogation, it will see for itself just how physically and emotionally beleaguered Williams was, Paradie said.

“I think the jury’s getting to see that is not a bad thing,” Paradie said. “Since our defense is he was so under the influence of drugs that he could not knowingly and intentionally have committed the act.”

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