Testimony focuses on crime scene during first day of trial in beating death of Lawrence man

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A Lawrence paramedic described the victim’s condition during the first testimony in the trial of a man accused of killing a 62-year-old Lawrence man last summer.

Chadwick E. Potter, 35, is charged with second degree murder in connection with the July 12 death of David Sullivan. Sullivan’s body was discovered by a passerby at about 10:45 a.m. near the northwest corner of Sixth and Vermont streets. A 41-inch bloodstained piece of lumber was found near Sullivan’s body.

Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical paramedic Jacob Cruse was first on the scene, where he found Sullivan lying on the ground showing “obvious signs of death,” including blood from an unidentifiable wound.

“He was cold and stiff,” Cruse said. “He had matted long hair. It was pretty bloody. Without pulling that back there was no way of seeing the wound itself.”

In his opening statement, Douglas County Deputy District Attorney Joshua Seiden detailed what the eight male and seven female jurors could expect to hear during the trial, which is scheduled to continue through the week.

Seiden told the jury that they would see video security footage from local businesses showing a person later identified as Potter walking northbound with Sullivan in the 600 block of Vermont just before midnight. In that video, Potter appears to be carrying what looks to be a piece of lumber. A short time later, Potter is captured on the same camera walking southbound, this time empty handed and without Sullivan.

Seiden told jurors that Potter later identified himself as the person walking with Sullivan during an interview with police. He also acknowledged carrying the board, although Potter said it belonged to Sullivan. However, Seiden indicated that there was no forensic evidence tying Potter to the board found later near Sullivan’s body.

“This is not a case with a smoking gun,” Seiden said. “There’s no DNA linking Potter to a weapon. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, this is a case of circumstantial evidence.”

Defense attorney John Kerns acknowledged that Sullivan suffered “a brutal death.” However, he characterized Potter, who was without a home at the time, as a wanderer who was down on his luck, but not a murderer.

“This is tragic,” Kerns said. “There’s no doubt about it, a life was taken. But what we also have is a guy who is falsely accused of murder.”

Andrea Albright/Lawrence Times Chadwick Potter listens during the first day of his trial.

Kerns spent a portion of his 20-minute opening statement to begin discrediting physical evidence anticipated from prosecutors, but he focused much of his attention on the scene of the crime.

“This is an incredibly high traffic area where Mr. Sullivan was found,” Kerns said. “There’s nothing hidden about where Mr. Sullivan’s body was located.”

Kerns questioned Lawrence Police Officer Brad Fry, the first officer on the scene, about the surrounding area. He pointed out that Sullivan was found near a clump of trees in an area adjacent to a nearby park and accessible by pedestrians, cyclists and motor vehicles. Fry said he was unable to estimate how many cars drove past during the four hours he was on the scene.

Kerns also questioned Fry about the homeless encampment that was located near the Kansas River just north of the Second Street bridge until recently. Fry estimated that the camp had held approximately 20-30 tents at the time of the incident.

Fry said he didn’t recall what, if any, items were on the ground near Sullivan’s body when he arrived on the scene. He said once he’s confirmed there is nothing that could harm investigators, his job is to secure a crime scene and protect it from being disturbed in any way.

“My job is to ID anything that could be hazardous,” Fry said. “If I don’t see anything like that then I’m not going to take note of it.”

Seiden questioned Sgt. Samuel Hiatt about general procedures in conducting an investigation and how detectives are assigned. He explained that his job is to oversee the bigger picture while the lead detective, in this case Detective Kimberlee Nicholson, to do the “minute-by-minute work on a case.”


During his testimony, Hiatt looked at the prosecutor as he listened to Seiden’s questions, but when giving his answers Hiatt addressed the jurors. Before beginning his questioning, Kerns asked Hiatt why he continually looked toward jurors.

“You’re trained to do that, right?” Kerns asked. “To be more convincing. To build a rapport.”

Hiatt said it was simply something taught during officer training. He explained to jurors that the intent was to make it clear to the jury that testimony is given for jurors to use during deliberation.

“The information being shared here is for you,” Hiatt told jurors.

Officer Alex Brittain testified to canvassing the larger area around Sixth and Vermont on July 12, but he said neither he nor any of the four detectives with him found additional evidence in the two hours they spent searching. He said they came across only one individual to question during that time but didn’t gather any additional information.

Crime Scene Technician Coordinator Jana Ramsey was the final witness to take the stand on Monday, but District Judge Amy Hanley postponed her testimony’s completion at the end of the day. The trial is scheduled to resume Tuesday morning.

Hanley has not yet ruled on a motion to suppress testimony from two people who encountered Potter in the hours after Sullivan’s body was discovered. The first is a supplemental statement made July 18 by Officer Jamie Lawson in which he details a conversation with Potter that occurred at approximately 3 a.m. on July 12. The statement indicates that based on Lawson’s perception “Potter was under the influence of drugs.”

The second relates to a report made to Lawrence police by a convenience store clerk around 7:30 p.m. July 12. According to the clerk, Potter was outside of the store carrying a hatchet and making threatening statements. The report indicates that police located Potter at the store and allowed him to leave after determining that he wasn’t a danger to himself or others.

Potter, who has no permanent address and has reportedly lived in Arizona, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Florida and other states, remains in custody of the jail on a $1 million bond.

All arrestees and defendants in criminal cases should be presumed not guilty unless they are convicted.

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Andrea Albright (she/her), reporter, can be reached at aalbright (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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