The surveillance video on the courtroom screen shows a white pickup truck from the Somerset County Sheriff’s Department pull up to a Cumberland Farms gas pump. The time stamp on the video is 1:23 a.m. on April 25, 2018. A few minutes pass, and the truck heads off into the dark.

The next clip is from the same surveillance camera. The time stamp is 1:40 a.m. on the same day. The same sheriff’s truck turns into the gas station and pulls into a parking spot in front of the store. But the truck’s own camera captures a man who is not Cpl. Eugene Cole getting out of Cole’s department vehicle.

The moment John D. Williams climbed out of the driver’s seat was the first outward sign of tragedy that night in Norridgewock. The Cumberland Farms clerk knew he was not the older sheriff’s deputy who normally drove that truck and who had stopped at the gas pump earlier that night. She called 911.

When the sun came up, a woman found Cole, 61, dead in her front yard down the road from the gas station. He was the first Maine police officer fatally shot in the line of duty in three decades.

In the days that followed, more than 200 law enforcement officers searched for Williams, 30, of Madison, in the woods. He was arrested after a four-day manhunt and charged with murder in Cole’s killing. He has pleaded not guilty.

On Monday, Williams sat in the Cumberland County Courthouse in Portland on the first day of his high-profile trial, which could go on for two weeks.


A prosecutor and a defense attorney both told jurors during opening arguments that Williams shot and killed Cole in the early hours of April 25, 2018.

Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea shows jurors the gun used in the shooting death of Somerset County Cpl. Eugene Cole. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

But they told different stories about Williams’ state of mind when he fired the gun – a key element to a murder charge.

Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea said the evidence will show that Williams intended to, or at least knew that he would, kill Cole when he fired the gun. She said the gun was fired at close range to Cole’s neck. She said Williams recognized Cole as the officer who had arrested his girlfriend days before. And she said he later told police that he “eliminated” Cole.

“If you apply your common sense and reason and conclude that as Cpl. Cole was on the ground begging for his life the defendant pointed the gun directly at his neck and fired, then he must have intended or at least knew that death would occur,” Zainea said in her opening statement.

Defense attorney Verne Paradie said Williams was too intoxicated to intend to kill Williams or know he was going to do so. He said a doctor will liken Williams to an animal who would chew off his own leg to get out of a trap without thinking about the consequences. And he said Williams was weak and afraid when he was captured, so he would have said anything to the police to satisfy them.

“The state cannot prove that his intoxication did not interfere with his ability to think intentionally and knowingly, and I’ll ask you to return a not guilty verdict on the murder charge,” Paradie said.


The jurors heard from six witnesses who began to outline the hours before and after the fatal shooting. Among them were the Cumberland Farms clerk, the 911 dispatcher who took her call and the Maine State Police detective who collected the surveillance footage.

Cpl. Eugene Cole

The prosecutors also called Christopher Shulenski, a former co-worker and friend who apparently was the last person to see Williams before the shooting. He testified Monday in exchange for immunity, meaning he would not face charges for his statements about buying and using drugs.

Shulenski testified that he had not seen his friend for months when he received a text from Williams on April 24, 2018. They talked about life, and Shulenski asked if Williams could help him find drugs. Williams sold him a half gram of cocaine for $50 that afternoon. They connected again around midnight when Williams called him for a ride. Shulenski said he drove Williams from a Skowhegan apartment complex to a house in nearby Norridgewock.

At both meetings, Shulenski said he was alarmed by his friend’s behavior. He said Williams seemed scattered and nervous, talking in riddles and ducking down in the car. He told Shulenski that he had a court appearance the next day and did not want to go to prison, and he talked about doing whatever he could to bail his girlfriend out of jail.

When he dropped Williams at the house, Shulenski said he noticed a bulletproof vest among his friend’s bags. They both saw the sheriff’s deputy truck slowly go by the house, and Shulenski said he made eye contact with Cole in the driver’s seat. The two friends told each other to be careful and said goodbye.

“He wasn’t himself,” Shulenski said.


That house on Mercer Road in Norridgewock belonged to Kim Sirois. She told the jury that Williams was friends with one of her sons, and he came to live with her family when he was in high school. Williams’ mother was remarried and relocating, but he did not want to move, Sirois said.

“John’s like a son,” Sirois said.

He was not living at her home on Mercer Street at the time of the shooting, but he had been staying there with his girlfriend the previous year. That night, Sirois said she woke up to the sound of her dogs barking but fell back asleep. In the morning, a co-worker told her in a text message that a sheriff’s deputy was missing, and she walked outside when a helicopter landed at the library near her house.

Sirois then saw Cole’s body outside in the front yard. She ran to him, asking if he was OK. When she didn’t get a response, she started screaming.

The first person to hear her was Lt. Kevin Adams, a game warden who had arrived at the Norridgewock fire station early that morning to organize the search and rescue. He was in the parking lot when he saw Sirois waving at the officers from her nearby home.

“She was screaming, ‘He’s here, he’s here,'” Adams testified Monday.


Dr. Mark Flomenbaum, the state’s chief medical examiner, conducted an autopsy later that morning. He stood in front of the jury Monday and indicated on his own neck where the gunshot wound was on Cole’s body. The bullet entered the right side of his neck and exited the left side, and its path was slightly downward.

Flomenbaum described a dark circle around the wound from gunpowder and smoke residue. He said it was clearly defined and concentrated, which meant the gun was fired very close to the skin.

“The gun itself was basically touching the skin,” he said.

John Williams, right, sits beside his attorney Verne Paradie during opening arguments Monday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Williams listened attentively during the first day of the trial. Wearing a brown suit jacket, he occasionally wrote notes to his attorney on a piece of paper, showing them to Paradie and then blacking out his words with a pen after they had conferred.

Paradie told the jury he would not dispute many of the facts presented by the state’s witnesses. He will call his own witnesses when the state rests its case, and it is possible that Williams will testify.

Cole’s wife and son sat in the courtroom with other supporters. A smaller knot of people who appeared to know Williams also sat in the benches. Media from across Maine crowded into one side of the courtroom.

Superior Court Justice Robert Mullen again warned the 12 jurors and three alternates Monday to avoid news reports about the trial so they can base their verdict solely on the evidence presented in the courtroom. The case was moved to Cumberland County because of the volume of news coverage in central Maine.

Testimony will continue Tuesday morning.

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