PORTLAND, Maine (AP) - A judge imposed a life sentence Thursday on a man who pressed his handgun to a sheriff deputy’s neck and pulled the trigger, killing the man and triggering a four-day manhunt. The prosecutor called it a cold-blooded execution.
John Williams was sentenced to the state’s maximum penalty for killing Cpl. Gene Cole last year in Norridgewock. The 61-year-old Cole became the first police officer to be killed in the line of duty in nearly 30 years in Maine.
Deputy Attorney General Lisa Marchese said the circumstances demanded the strongest penalty to send a message.
“This case was an execution - an execution of a law enforcement officer doing his job,” Marchese told the judge.
Prosecutors say Williams was angry over his girlfriend’s arrest and wanted to avoid going to jail himself when he shot Cole on April 25, 2018. The defense said Williams was sleep-deprived and strung out on cocaine and heroin.
Cole’s killing prompted a massive manhunt with more than 200 law enforcement officers pouring into the area, along with aircraft and military-style tactical vehicles. Williams was eventually captured outside a cabin.
Testimony indicated Cole intended to arrest Williams on drug charges when the two encountered each other on a darkened road. Cole slipped and fell to the ground and never took his gun out of its holster before he was shot by Williams.
Williams, 31, offered his apologies for the pain he caused.
But first he had to walk past half-dozen of Cole’s uniformed colleagues from the Somerset County Sheriff’s Department when he entered he courtroom in Portland.
“What happened was not born out of malice or hatred. It was born out of panic. And what followed was immediate sorrow and regret,” he said. “I took a good man’s life, and it weighs heavy on me and my soul,” he added.
The state sought the maximum penalty of life in prison in Maine, which has no death penalty. Defense attorney Patrick Nickerson asked for a 40-year sentence.
Williams‘ mother and aunt told the judge that drugs ruined the defendant’s life and that he was remorseful over his split-second decision.
“Please do not bend to the political climate that wants him put away for the rest of his life,” his aunt, Deb Williams, told the judge.
Tom Cole, the victim’s brother, said afterward that he was satisfied with the sentence.
“The judge sent a good message to everyone that you don’t kill a cop in this state. I think that’s a good precedent to set,” he said.
Cole, who lived in Norridgewock, was a beloved family member and respected member of the community who became a law enforcement officer later in life.
He was known for treating people humanely and for believing in second chances. Some who attended his funeral wore T-shirts quoting the Bible verse that included the phrase “blessed are the peacemakers.”
“Eugene Cole was exactly the kind of police officer that today’s society requires,” Somerset County Sheriff Dale Lancaster said.
Several of Cole’s family members, including his wife and daughter, testified about their loss during the hearing.
“The defendant is nothing but a coward, and he will never be anything else. In my mind he is nothing,” she said.
This story has been updated to correct the spelling of the first name of the deputy’s wife to Sheryl, not Cheryl.
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