Jury deliberating in case of man accused in downtown Lawrence homicide

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Jury deliberations will resume Thursday morning in the trial of Chadwick E. Potter, who is facing a second-degree murder charge in connection with the death last summer of David Sullivan, 62.

The case went to the jury of five women and seven men at about 3:30 p.m. Wednesday. They remained in the jury room until just before 5 p.m., telling District Court Judge Amy Hanley that they had not yet reached a decision.

Potter, 35, was arrested on July 13, one day after Sullivan’s body was found in a woody area near the northwest corner at the intersection of Sixth and Vermont streets.

Testimony concluded Wednesday with a witness who said he had seen several people stopped on bicycles at the scene several hours before a passerby saw the body and notified the Lawrence Police Department at approximately 10:45 a.m.

An investigation led police to Potter, who was seen on video surveillance footage walking with Sullivan toward the area of the crime scene just before midnight on July 11. In video played in court Tuesday, Potter is carrying a piece of lumber as he walks with Sullivan north in the 600 block of Vermont Street.

Footage from the same camera shows Potter walking in the opposite direction approximately 20 minutes later. In that video, Potter is no longer carrying the board.

Crime scene photos displayed during the trial showed Sullivan lying on the ground face down, surrounded by toiletries, a pack of cigarettes, two stacked plastic cups, and a 41-inch piece of wood. An autopsy later determined that Sullivan died as the result of multiple blunt force trauma to the head.

Testimony on Monday and Tuesday centered on the investigation done by the Lawrence Police Department. Multiple patrol officers, investigators, and forensic analysts detailed the timeline of the investigation and the results of DNA evidence gathered at the scene.

With each witness, defense attorney John Kerns sought to discern whether investigators had considered other suspects after police interviewed and arrested Potter on July 13.

Officer Taylor Zook testified on Tuesday that he followed up on a tip that came to the department on the day Sullivan’s body was discovered. Kerns read portions of the transcript from a phone call in which a North Lawrence resident reports seeing several people on bicycles stopped at the location where the body was found.

Mackenzie Clark/Lawrence Times Officer Taylor Zook

On Wednesday, the man testified that he drove past the area where the body was found at approximately 6:30 a.m. on July 12, as he does every day on his commute to work. He said although it is common for him to see people in the area, the behavior of the cyclists he saw on July 12 stood out to him.

“Three or four people were in the area,” the man said. “Two had bikes positioned like they were forming a wall. They looked surprised that I seen them. They looked to me like they were up to something. What it was I have no idea.”

The man said he called police after seeing a social media post later in the day stating that a body had been found at that location. He confirmed during his testimony that he had provided descriptions to Zook for two of the people he saw — a man and woman each standing astride their bicycles.  

During his phone conversation with caller, Zook tells him, “This could be huge,” before stating that he believed an investigator would be contacting him for further information.

The man said investigators never followed up.

Andrea Albright/Lawrence Times Detective Kim Nicholson testifies during trial for Chadwick Potter, April 24, 2024.

Deputy District Attorney Joshua Seiden played portions of a video showing Potter’s interview with Detectives Nathaniel Haig and Kimberlee Nicholson just after he was brought to the law enforcement center on July 13.

In the video, Potter explains that he first met Sullivan at a church located in the 1000 block of Kentucky that provides meals four days a week to people experiencing homelessness. Potter says the two were acquaintances whose paths crossed regularly in the downtown area.

During the interview, Potter identifies himself as the person seen walking with Sullivan on surveillance video. He also acknowledges that he is carrying a board. However, Potter tells investigators that the board belonged to Sullivan, who kept the board with him for protection.

“He had a two-by-four, actually, now that you say that,” Potter says in the interview. “I was carrying it. He handed it to me. He said something about being threatened or something. I don’t know. I didn’t know what was going on.”

Nicholson, who acted as lead detective in the investigation, and Haig ask Potter multiple times about his relationship with Sullivan, and Potter maintains that the two have not had any conflict. Potter tells the two that Sullivan had given him the T-shirt he was wearing during the interview and says Sullivan had also given him a jar of peanut butter.

As the interview continues, Nicholson tells Potter that the investigation is focused solely on him, telling Potter, “At this point it’s not a question of who did it, it’s a question of why you did it.”

Despite the accusation as well as false assertions that detectives have traffic camera footage showing him walking away from Sullivan’s motionless body, Potter maintains that Sullivan was alive and well when he left him at the corner.

“You’re insinuating that I did this,” Potter says. “That’s pretty serious. I didn’t and I’m not going to admit it. I’m not going to say I did something I didn’t do.”

Nicholson continues to pressure Potter, falsely telling him that footage shows he is the only person to have been seen near Sullivan at the time he was killed. Potter repeatedly maintains that he had nothing to do with harming Sullivan.

“You say that like you know,” he says. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. You’re talking very definitely. I know what the situation was when I left.”

Mackenzie Clark/Lawrence Times Chadwick Potter looks to the courtroom door during his trial, April 23, 2024.

After the video ended, Kerns asked Nicholson about the duration of the investigation, and when law enforcement stopped pursuing new leads.

Nicholson said approximately 20 police department personnel participated in the investigation, which lasted about three weeks. She said they stopped pursuing additional suspects after Potter was picked up on July 13.

A crime scene investigator testified on Tuesday that five pieces of evidence were submitted to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation for forensic analysis. KBI guidelines limit the number of items that can be sent for analysis to 10.

Kerns asked why a toothbrush, cigarette butts, and plastic cups found near the body were not sent. Nicholson said she discussed evidence with the crime scene technician, and the two agreed upon what was sent for testing.

Results from the KBI later showed that blood found on the two-by-four matched a DNA sample taken from Sullivan. Blood found on boots belonging to Potter was a DNA match to a sample taken from Potter.

Potter did not testify.

In his closing arguments, Seiden outlined testimony and evidence for the jury to consider. He explained the relevance of each piece and reminded the jury that he had told them the case would be circumstantial.

“Remember, no DNA match from the defendant on the murder weapon. No video of the defendant with Mr. Sullivan when Mr. Sullivan was deceased. No eye witnesses. No smoking gun. No surprises.”

Seiden repeatedly displayed a direct quote from Potter’s interview with detectives in which he said, “Everything I do on a daily basis really doesn’t have any rhyme or reason. It’s survival.” He punctuated his slide presentation with the quote multiple times.

During his closing argument, Kerns asked jurors to consider what the quote means to them, not within the context of Seiden’s remarks.

“Did you take that as a confession from my client?” Kerns said. “Is that how you understood that? Or is it a peaceful individual explaining his livelihood being a homeless man in Lawrence, Kansas.”

Kerns said Seiden’s explanation to the jury of the circumstantial nature of the case was simply an admission that the case lacked solid evidence.

“Talk about managing expectations,” Kerns said. “Holy cow. Did a prosecutor in a murder case just say that? Wow.”

Kerns characterized investigators’ efforts in the case as lacking, reiterating that multiple law enforcement witnesses testified that not only had their work turned up no leads or evidence, but several also said they had not submitted reports about their efforts for the case file. He reminded jurors that no one in law enforcement followed up with the man who provided the information about bicyclists near the body early in the morning before the call came in to police.

Kerns reminded jurors that investigators sent only five items to the KBI for forensic analysis despite the 10-item limit. He questioned why additional items weren’t submitted, either to identify a foreign DNA profile or eliminate Potter.

He concluded by telling jurors that the burden of proof lies with the state. In this case, he said, investigators had failed to gather the evidence required for a conviction.

“What’s disturbing is all this went down and nobody cared,” Kerns said. “Can you imagine what sort of tragedy could result? Not just Mr. Sullivan being killed, but then an innocent man being falsely accused of it.”

The jury is scheduled to resume deliberations at 9 a.m. Thursday.

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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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Jury deliberating in case of man accused in downtown Lawrence homicide

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In the second-degree murder trial of Chadwick E. Potter, the prosecutor emphasized Potter’s focus on survival; the defense attorney said the case lacked any solid evidence. Jury deliberations will resume Thursday morning.


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