Larry Morrill stood in the center of the Portland courtroom. The state trooper on the floor in front of him moved to stand up. The jurors watched.

“He goes to roll over to get up,” Morrill said, narrating. “If you watch this turn here, if you watch that toe really digs into the ground.”

Then Morrill came up behind the trooper and pressed his finger to the man’s neck – pointed like a gun.

Morrill was reenacting the state’s version of the shooting that killed Cpl. Eugene Cole in the early hours of April 25, 2018. His demonstration was a dramatic and contested moment on the fourth day of trial for John D. Williams, who is charged with murder in the death of the Somerset County sheriff’s deputy last year.

Cole, 61, was the first Maine police officer fatally shot in the line of duty in three decades. Williams, 30, was arrested outside a remote Fairfield cabin on the fourth day of a massive manhunt. He has pleaded not guilty.

The defense team has not denied Williams shot and killed Cole. But attorney Verne Paradie has argued that Williams was too high from drug use that night to intentionally or knowingly cause Cole’s death, which is a central element of a murder charge.

Paradie has said he will ask the judge to instruct the jury on a lesser charge of manslaughter before it deliberates on the evidence. The possible sentence for murder is 25 years to life, while manslaughter is capped at 30 years.

The state has pointed to evidence like lead residue and blood splatter to say Williams put the gun up against Cole’s skin during the shooting. Morrill, a former Bangor police officer and an associate member of the evidence response team for the Maine State Police, used that evidence and other clues like grass stains to issue his findings.

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

He said Cole was on the ground and trying to get up when Williams put the gun to the right side of his neck and fired. The sheriff’s deputy was either still on his knees or crouched low at the time, Morrill said. 

The defense tried to bar Morrill from testifying, or at least from presenting the reenactment. The judge allowed both, but he also let attorney Patrick Nickerson record the reenactment on his cellphone camera. And while Morrill was on the witness stand, Paradie tried to discredit the state’s theory of an execution-style killing.

He pointed specifically to a note in Morrill’s report that he could not be certain that the fired bullet and cartridge casing found on the scene had not been disturbed since the shooting.

“If where you found the fired cartridge was not where it was at the time of the shooting as it got ejected from the gun, your opinion on the location of the shooter and Cpl. Cole’s position could be affected by that?” Paradie asked.

“Yes,” Morrill said.

But he also said slight variations in that evidence would not change his conclusion that Cole was on or low to the ground when he was shot. 

“We know just from the angle where everything was, he couldn’t have been in an upright position,” Morrill said. “In order to get the angle (of the wound path), the defendant would have to be much taller, 12 or 15 feet.”

The state called more than 20 witnesses, and Morrill was the last one. The jury also heard Thursday from Detective Jason Andrews of the Maine State Police, the lead investigator who interviewed Williams upon his arrest.

Paradie has argued that Williams was too weak and afraid to be honest in that interview, but the judge ruled before trial that police did not coerce the confession Williams gave that day. So the jury saw more than an hour of the videotaped conversation between Andrews and Williams. 

“At any time, were you concerned that Mr. Williams seemed fearful of you?” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Marchese asked. 

“No ma’am,” Andrews answered.

“Did he flinch as you approached him?” she asked.

“No,” he said.

“As an experienced detective, did you ever think he was telling you things that you wanted to hear?” she asked.

“No, ma’am,” he said.

Paradie displayed photos of Williams on the day of his arrest, when a black-and-purple bruise was already showing on his face. Law enforcement officers who were part of the team that arrested him have already said in court that at least one hit Williams while handcuffing him. Paradie asked Andrews about the interview, particularly moments when the detective said he didn’t believe Williams was defending himself against Cole when he shot the gun.

“Is it fair to say Mr. Williams’ story changed a few times about how it went down?” Paradie asked.

The detective disagreed.

“I think through the course of our discussion he added more information after we asked him some more questions,” Andrews said.

The prosecutors rested their case Thursday afternoon, and Paradie called two of those arresting officers as his first witnesses. One was state Trooper Garret Booth, who said he helped escort Williams out of the woods. Paradie asked if he spoke to Williams during that walk.

“I called John Williams a piece of (expletive),” Booth said.

When Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea questioned Booth, she asked him why he used that term.

“I’m human,” he said. “An error in judgment. Gene, I considered a friend. I was angry.”

“Just let your emotions get in the way, didn’t you?” Zainea asked.

“Yes, ma’am,” he answered.

The trial will continue Friday, but it is still not clear whether Williams himself will take the stand.

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