A killer with Massachusetts ties received a life sentence Thursday in Maine for the fatal shooting of Somerset County Sheriff’s Deputy Corporal Eugene P. Cole, but not before Cole’s wife confronted the man who gunned down her “soulmate” in April 2018.
“So damn much is missed,” said Sheryl Cole during the packed sentencing hearing for John Williams, 31, in the Cumberland County Courthouse in Portland. “I’m not sure if my soul will ever heal.”
As a number of Corporal Cole’s uniformed colleagues listened solemnly from the public gallery, Sheryl Cole, who describes herself on Facebook as “The proud wife of Somerset County Sheriff’s Deputy Corporal Eugene Cole,” insisted no one should call her a widow.
“I met him when I was barely 15,” she said of her slain husband. “We married when I was barely 16. ... We fought to stay together. We fought for our marriage. We did stay together, and we did stay married. Our 43rd wedding anniversary was Aug. 14. I am not a widow. I will remain married to that man throughout eternity.”
Corporal Cole, a 61-year-old father, husband, and grandfather at the time of his death, encountered Williams in the early morning hours of April 25, 2018, in Norridgewock, Maine.
Both sides agreed that Williams fired the shot that killed Cole. Prosecutors argued Williams knew what he was doing, while the defense claimed he was sleep-deprived and on drugs. Williams was convicted of murder in June.
Williams had been due in Haverhill District Court in Massachusetts on the day Cole was killed. He told a friend he didn’t want to return to Massachusetts because he feared spending 10 years behind bars if convicted in an illegal gun possession case.
On March 22, 2018, Massachusetts State Police had arrested Williams on Interstate 495 in Haverhill, where authorities said they found two handguns in the trunk of his car. Williams was arraigned that day and released March 31, 2018 on $5,000 bail.
Court records filed in Maine said a police vehicle appeared in the early-morning hours of April 25, 2018 as friends were dropping Williams off in front of a house in Norridgewock. Cole’s body was later found outside the home. Court documents said Williams confessed the crime to a friend.
Justice Robert Mullen, during Williams’s sentencing Thursday, said from the bench that Williams shot Cole because he feared going back to jail, a remark echoed by Williams’s lawyer, Patrick Nickerson, who said “an unpleasant thing” happened to his client during his brief stint behind bars in Massachusetts. Nickerson didn’t elaborate.
Cole’s daughter, Jillane Cole, also addressed the court Thursday.
“Our lives were shattered” by the murder, she said. “ ... My dad was my rock, my go-to, and my foundation. And I was daddy’s little girl.”
Williams also spoke and apologized for harming Cole’s family and the community and said he hoped to “maybe one day, one day, have your forgiveness.”
He said the shooting wasn’t motivated by malice toward Corporal Cole or law enforcement but instead by “panic,” adding that “what followed afterwards was immediate sorrow and regret. ... I took a good man’s life, and it weighs heavy on me and my soul.”
Williams nodded slightly and at one point closed his eyes as Mullen issued the sentence. Williams’s lawyer had requested a 40-year term, and Mullen said that since the conviction, he had grappled with whether a life sentence was warranted.
“Well, I’m not grappling with it anymore,” Mullen said. “ ... You’re going to pay for your actions with your loss of liberty for the longest period of time our state allows.”