Expert testifies that Lawrence man died from blunt force trauma; police detail ‘civil’ interactions with defendant

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A man whose body was found near the intersection of Sixth and Vermont streets last summer died from multiple blunt force injuries severe enough to cause skull fractures that caused bleeding in his brain.

David Sullivan, 62, died sometime around midnight on July 12, according to law enforcement officers who testified during the second day of the trial against Chadwick E. Potter, 35. Potter is facing a charge of second-degree murder in connection with Sullivan’s death.

Forensic pathologist Dr. Erin Carney described the victim’s wounds to jurors, who then took turns viewing five autopsy photos showing Sullivan’s head and brain, as well as bruising and scrapes on other areas of his body. In addition to Sullivan’s head injury, he also suffered seven broken ribs and a bruised left lung.

Carney said she found no defensive wounds, but classified the death as a homicide based on the circumstances under which Sullivan’s body was found and the nature of the injuries.

Mackenzie Clark/Lawrence Times Dr. Erin Carney

“There was no explanation of any sort of accident that would account for these injuries told to me,” Carney said.

Lawrence Police Detective Kimberlee Nicholson arrived on the scene at 11 a.m. on July 12, approximately 15 minutes after dispatch received the call regarding a body at the north end of downtown Lawrence.

She testified on Tuesday that by the time she arrived, a patrol officer had already posted crime scene tape around the area, and paramedics had already covered Sullivan’s body with a blue tarp. She said when she looked under the tarp she saw the victim lying face down on the ground but couldn’t determine exactly what had cause the wound to Sullivan’s head.

“To be honest, when I first saw it I thought it was a gunshot wound to he head,” Nicholson said. “Initially I thought it might be a suicide.”

Mackenzie Clark/Lawrence Times Detective Kim Nicholson

Nicholson, who became lead detective on the case, was among a dozen police officers and investigators to testify Tuesday. Nicholson and others detailed how they became aware of the crime, how they were involved in the investigation and what they found as they canvassed the area and searched for anyone who might have information about the crime or the victim.

Detective Amy Price testified that a homicide case in a high-profile location draws a lot of resources within the police department.

“We need all hands on deck,” Price said. “Everyone is going to help out.”

Among the first people on the scene was Jana Ramsey, crime scene technician coordinator with the Lawrence Police Department. Ramsey said her role is to record the crime scene and gather evidence.


On Tuesday, jurors were shown photographs of Sullivan’s body as it was found the morning of July 12. Images showed a man dressed in a black long-sleeved shirt over a lighter colored shirt, blue jeans, a dark belt and brown boots. Two stacked plastic cups, an open pack of cigarettes, a toothbrush kit and a bag of hygiene products, and a long piece of wood could be seen on the ground near the body.

In Sullivan’s pockets were his wallet and identification, a small baggie of a crystal-like substance, and a prescription pill bottle containing 54 of 60 anti-seizure tablets.

A toxicology report that was produced after Sullivan’s autopsy showed a significant amount of methamphetamine in Sullivan’s blood. It also contained therapeutic levels of olanzapine, a drug used to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and phenytoin, an anti-seizure medication. Neither is commonly used recreationally, according to Carney.

Deputy District Attorney Joshua Seiden asked Ramsey to open sealed packages of evidence for the jury, which included Sullivan’s wallet, the pill bottle, and two swabs used to sample dark stains that appeared to be blood, according to testimony.

Jurors also saw two T-shirts and a hatchet recovered later from Potter.

Mackenzie Clark/Lawrence Times Deputy Douglas County District Attorney Joshua Seiden questions a witness, April 23, 2024.

Ramsey testified that she sent a total of five objects to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation for forensic analysis. She clarified that she didn’t send the swabs to the KBI because she chose to send the entire board instead.

“When I looked at the board in the lab I noticed blood stain patterns on it,” Ramsey said. “I wanted an expert to look at it.”

Defense attorney John Kerns asked why the hatchet and two cigarette butts weren’t sent for analysis. Ramsey explained that in her experience a cigarette butt found under a body rarely yields an accurate profile because it is contaminated by the body under which it was found. The hatchet, she said, bore no relevance to the case based on the information she had at the time evidence was sent to the KBI.

Ramsey said investigators are limited by KBI guidelines to sending 10 items for forensic analysis. To submit anything over that number requires investigators to file an exception, which must be approved by a KBI supervisor.

Kerns asked Ramsey why, if investigators had the opportunity to submit 10 items to the KBI for forensic analysis, they didn’t submit the additional five items.

“If I thought there were items of additional value I could certainly submit them for testing,” Ramsey said.

KBI forensic DNA analyst Jena Sparling testified that the wooden board submitted appeared to have visual stains that were consistent with blood. She said the analysis proved that it was blood, and the blood matched a known DNA sample collected from Sullivan.

She said a pair of brand name shoes submitted by investigators also tested positive for blood, but that DNA profile matched a sample taken from Potter. While it was not made clear during testimony who owned the shoes that were submitted to the KBI, a a pair of boots by the same brand name appeared to match boots worn by Sullivan that were visible in the crime scene photographs.

According to testimony, investigators initially searched the immediate area for evidence, but the search was expanded as officers sought video surveillance footage and witnesses in the downtown area.


Footage retrieved from two downtown locations showed Potter walking with Sullivan northbound in the 600 block of Vermont just before midnight on July 11. In one of the videos, Potter appears to be carrying a long piece of wood in his hands. Approximately 20 minutes later, Potter is seen walking southbound on the same block, this time alone and without the piece of wood in his hands.

The later video shows Potter appear to drop something and then stop to pick it up. He walks a few steps and then pauses to turn around and look north toward Sixth Street for several seconds. When he turns south again, Potter bends over and rests momentarily with his hands on his knees. He turns north once again and for several seconds raises a hand or fist in the direction of the crime scene. He then turns around and walks south out of the camera range.

Sgt. Jamie Lawson testified that he spoke with Potter at approximately 3 a.m. on July 12. Lawson said Potter approached him as he sat in his patrol vehicle, which was not unusual. Two days earlier Potter had walked up and down Massachusetts Street with Lawson during a community initiative undertaken by police to connect with Lawrence residents.

Lawson said that early on the morning of July 12, however, Potter’s demeanor was somewhat different than it had been during their exchange two days before. Lawson said that although Potter was still “very civil,” his thoughts seemed to be scattered and his speech was rapid. He was also sweating profusely — more than would be expected even on a warm, humid July night.

“He told me he is a protector of the community he lives in,” Lawson said. “He told me in a matter of conflict he doesn’t believe in violence, but he could use violence in defense of others.”

Mackenzie Clark/Lawrence Times Sgt. Jamie Lawson

Additional video shown in court Tuesday showed body camera footage from Lawrence police who were called to a Kwik Shop in the 800 block of Mississippi Street on the evening of July 12.

Police were called to the scene by a store clerk who reported that a man who was later identified as Potter entered the store carrying a hatchet and talking about hurting someone. The clerk testified that odd behavior was not out of the ordinary during the year she had worked in that location, but in this instance she called police.

“It sounded like he had already hurt somebody but was wanting to hurt somebody else,” the clerk testified. “I’m not too sure because I’m not a mind reader.”

In the body camera footage, LPD Sgt. Bronson Star approaches Potter, who is standing in a yard between the Kwik Shop building and a house to the north. Two additional officers can be seen a few feet from Potter as Star tells Potter, “You’re scaring me, man.”

Potter immediately puts the hatchet down and explains to police that he has been using the hatchet to whittle a piece of wood he is carrying “to be a training sword.”

Mackenzie Clark/Lawrence Times Bronson Star

An officer asks Potter to pour out the vodka he is carrying and Star tells Potter that his main concern is that he is going to hurt someone.

“Absolutely not,” Potter states in the video. “I’m just looking for a bed. I don’t even have the energy to hurt myself right now.”

After conferring with the other officers on the scene, the police decide not to take him into custody and return the hatchet to him.

“He didn’t break any laws,” Star said. “We didn’t have a reason to take it from him.”


Kerns pressed each witness about people interviewed in the process of the investigation asking whether individuals had been considered as suspects.

One person who had initially been a “person of interest” called Sullivan’s family just before he was killed to alert them to the fact that Sullivan was being harassed at the encampment where he had been staying in North Lawrence.

Mackenzie Clark/Lawrence Times Defense attorney John Kerns questions a witness, April 23, 2024.

Several officers went to the campsite that until last week was located near the 100 block of Maple, but they were unsuccessful in gathering information there.

Officer Taylor Zook testified that he had returned a call made to police regarding a group of people he had seen on bicycles near the site where Sullivan’s body was found.

The caller said he commuted past Sixth and Vermont regularly and was surprised to see three or four people at 6:30 a.m. July 12 who appeared to be using their bicycles as a shield to block the view of something from the road.

Kerns read a transcript of the call’s recording in court, in which the caller said the bicyclists “didn’t really look homeless, but they acted like groups of people I’d seen there before who were homeless.” The man described several of the people, but made no reference to what they were actually doing.

“Two of the people looked me dead in the eye like they were caught doing something wrong,” the caller said. “Normally I wouldn’t think much about it until I saw something happen later there that morning.”

Zook said that to his knowledge, nothing came from the report.

The trial is scheduled to resume at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.

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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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Expert testifies that Lawrence man died from blunt force trauma; police detail ‘civil’ interactions with defendant

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A man whose body was found downtown last summer died from multiple blunt force injuries, an expert testified Tuesday. Police officers also shared details of ”very civil” interactions they’d had with the defendant.


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