John Williams, the 29-year-old Madison man accused of killing a sheriff’s officer in Somerset County on April 25, pleaded not guilty to a murder charge Tuesday afternoon in a Portland courtroom.
Williams, wearing a blazer, shirt and tie and dress pants, entered the plea in front of Superior Court Justice Robert Mullen. Tuesday’s hearing lasted only a couple of minutes, long enough for Williams to enter the plea and for Mullen to briefly run down a series of deadlines leading to a trial expected to be held next May.
Williams, who was caught in Fairfield after a four-day manhunt around the town of Norridgewock, appeared in good health and walked briskly from a holding room into the courtroom for the hearing. A large black eye that he had at the time of his arrest – police said he offered “limited resistance” when they caught up to him – appeared to have healed.
Police have still not provided many details on the killing, including a motive for the shooting when Williams and Cpl. Eugene Cole encountered each other on a Norridgewock road sometime after 1 a.m. on April 25. According to police, Williams shot Cole and then took Cole’s police pickup, drove to a Cumberland Farms store, which he robbed, and then drove off before abandoning the pickup. Police scoured the area for four days before finally locating Williams.
The case was quickly transferred to Cumberland County Court in Portland because of extensive publicity in Somerset County.
“Not guilty” were the only words Williams spoke in court. If convicted, he faces a sentence of 25 years to life.
Looking on Tuesday was Williams’ mother, Marge Williams, his girlfriend and two relatives. All declined comment on the case.
After his hearing, Williams vigorously shook the hands of his court-appointed lawyers, Verne Paradie and Patrick Nickerson.
Paradie said he and his client have only spoken briefly since Paradie was appointed as his lawyer and that he had limited information on the case. He said he hopes to sit down with Williams more in the coming weeks and will start to go over material on the case from the state.
A mental exam, ordered when a friend said Williams had been “paranoid” about going to jail in Massachusetts on gun charges, is continuing, Paradie said. Williams was arrested in Massachusetts in March on gun possession charges and he was due in court in that state later on the same day that Cole was shot.
Paradie said he has not yet decided whether to ask for a bail hearing for Williams. Most suspects facing murder charges in Maine are held without bail, but they can request a hearing to seek to be freed before trial. The hearing requires prosecutors to present some of their evidence to a judge who decides whether to allow bail; it can also present a preview of the prosecution’s case.
Deputy Attorney General Lisa Marchese, who is prosecuting Williams, provided little detail on the case after the hearing. Marchese said only that she’s confident in the state’s case and will ask for a “long sentence” if Williams is convicted.
Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:
John Williams, who is accused of killing Somerset County Deputy Cpl. Eugene Cole, talks with lawyer Verne Paradie before pleading not guilty Tuesday during an arraignment hearing at Cumberland County Courthouse. (Ben McCanna/Portland Press Herald)
Murder suspect John Williams was in court Tuesday for an arraignment. (Ben McCanna/Portland Press Herald)
Murder suspect John Williams, right, sits beside his attorney Patrick Nickerson during a hearing at Capital Judicial Center in Augusta on Monday, April 30, 2018. Williams is charged with the death of Somerset County Deputy Cpl. Eugene Cole on April 25, 2018. (David Leaming/Morning Sentinel file photo)