A man charged with first-degree murder will have to wait until the end of the month to find out whether he will face trial for the beating death of a 62-year-old Lawrence man.
Chadwick Potter, 34, was originally charged with second-degree murder in connection with the death of David Sullivan, who was found lifeless on the morning of July 12 near the northwest corner of Sixth and Vermont. A 41-inch blood-stained piece of lumber was found near Sullivan’s body.
In a July 13 interview with Lawrence Police Department Detectives Kimberlee Nicholson and Nathan Hague that was shown in court Monday, Potter said he and Sullivan were friendly acquaintances who were simply passing time around downtown and smoking marijuana together the night before.
“I had no quarrel with him, to be honest,” Potter said. “He gave me this shirt. He gave me peanut butter. Then we were walking together. What else do you want me to say?”
Police testified that Potter was identified as a suspect by comparing clothing worn by a person seen accompanying Sullivan on the night of the incident to clothing worn by Potter during an encounter with police the next day.
Douglas County District Attorney Suzanne Valdez and Deputy DA Joshua Seiden presented traffic and private security camera footage that showed Potter walking with Sullivan northbound in the 600 block of Vermont Street at approximately 11:45 p.m. on July 11.
In the video, Potter appears to be carrying a piece of lumber. The two disappear from camera range, but about 20 minutes later Potter reappears alone, without the wooden board, walking south down Vermont.
In the footage, Potter drops the cup he is carrying, and after stopping to pick it up he glances back toward Sixth Street and the area where Sullivan’s body was later found. Before passing the camera, he pauses two additional times to look back toward Sixth, the second time appearing to raise a clenched hand.
Detective David Garcia testified that Sullivan had reportedly told a number of people that he was awaiting a check for thousands of dollars, but the Topeka mental health facility that had most recently housed Sullivan and had power of attorney over his financial affairs said a check was never cashed.
Garcia said his investigation had also led to an interview with a man who had had a “verbal argument” with Sullivan in the lobby at Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center in Lawrence. The man said Sullivan boasted that not only had he led the neo-nazi aryan brotherhood gang while in prison, he said he was still the “shot caller” after being released.
In his interview with police on July 13, Potter reported knowing of Sullivan’s affiliation but said it had no bearing on their friendship.
“He didn’t act aggressive toward me per se. He could be intimidating. His introduction was that he was the head of the aryan brotherhood. He calls himself Sandman.”
Defense attorney John Kerns asked Nicholson whether witnesses had reported to her that Sullivan was known as a bully among homeless people in Lawrence, but she said bullying hadn’t come up.
“Most people’s opinion was that he claimed to be the head of the aryan brotherhood, but that he was mostly nice to people,” Nicholson said.
During the interview, Nicholson asked Potter about an incident later on July 12 where police were called to the convenience store at Ninth and Mississippi. Nicholson said police responded to reports of a man making threatening comments to customers and swinging a hatchet. This incident generated the body camera footage that linked Potter to the person appearing in surveillance video from the night before.
Potter told Nicholson that he was frustrated that day because police had asked him to pour out his alcohol, but he hadn’t made any threats and didn’t understand why police had been called. When asked, Potter denied suffering from mental health issues. Nicholson then asked if he still had the hatchet and if so, where?
“Yes,” Potter said. “It’s in my backpack.”
Kerns asked each witness who testified Monday about traffic in the area where Sullivan’s body was found. Each responded by recognizing that the intersections on Sixth Street in the downtown area see a relatively high volume of foot, bicycle and automobile traffic 24 hours a day.
Kerns also asked police whether they had identified and interviewed any of the “hundreds” of other people who were seen on surveillance video near Sixth and Vermont between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. on the night Sullivan died. He also asked about the population of the camps for people experiencing homelessness just across the bridge in North Lawrence and adjacent to Burcham Park.
Detectives specified what areas could and could not be seen by cameras, and said they eliminated suspects by identifying when they appeared and disappeared from view as they passed through the area. Nicholson acknowledged, however, that the exact spot where Sullivan’s body was found was blocked from view.
When given the opportunity to follow up, Seiden had only one additional question for Nicholson.
“Of the hundreds of people seen in the videos, how many of those people were walking with Mr. Sullivan while carrying what appeared to be a two-by-four?” Seiden asked.
Nicholson said none.
An amended complaint filed Monday morning elevated the charge against Potter from the original second-degree murder to first-degree murder.
Potter’s preliminary hearing had originally been scheduled for just half a day, but testimony and presentation of evidence on Monday took longer than expected. Final arguments are scheduled for 4 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 30.
Potter, who has no permanent address and has reportedly lived in Arizona, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Florida and other states, remains in custody on a $1 million bond.
All arrestees and defendants in criminal cases should be presumed not guilty unless and until they are convicted.