Jury acquits man charged in beating death of Lawrence man

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Post last updated at 3:47 p.m. Thursday, April 25:

A jury on Thursday found Chadwick E. Potter not guilty of second-degree murder in the death last summer of 62-year-old David Sullivan.

Potter, 35, has been in police custody since July 13, the day after Sullivan’s body was discovered. Police made contact with Potter several hours after Sullivan’s death during an incident involving a hatchet at a local convenience store.

Jurors deliberated for a little more than an hour on Wednesday afternoon and continued for about six hours Thursday before announcing they had reached a decision.

Potter’s was the second homicide jury trial in as many months in Douglas County District Court in which the defendant has been acquitted of all charges. 

Potter was released without being charged for the disturbance at the convenience store, but police officers said they noted similarities in Potter’s appearance to a man seen in video surveillance walking with the victim not long before he was killed. Sullivan’s body was found in a woody area on the northwest corner at the intersection of Sixth and Vermont streets at 10:45 a.m.

Prosecutors built a circumstantial case against Potter, relying heavily on traffic cameras and private security video to track Potter and Sullivan as they moved through downtown Lawrence.

Footage showed Sullivan and Potter together walking northbound in the 600 block of Vermont just before midnight on July 11. In the video, Potter, who later identified himself in the footage during a police interrogation, can be seen carrying a large piece of lumber.

Approximately 20 minutes later, the same camera captures Potter alone walking south in the 600 block of Vermont and no longer carrying the board. In the video, he pauses several times to look back toward the north before proceeding south out of the camera’s view.

Amid their deliberations Thursday, jurors sent two questions to the court. They asked for the specific locations of the downtown cameras that captured the video footage, and for access to photos that were included in the prosecutor’s presentation during closing arguments.

“The evidence has been presented to you, and that’s what you are to consider,” Douglas County District Judge Amy Hanley wrote in response to both questions.

Andrea Albright/Lawrence Times Deputy Douglas County District Attorney Joshua Seiden tells the judge he has no objection to the way she answered jurors’ questions, April 25, 2024.

A forensic pathologist testified on Tuesday that Sullivan died from a skull fracture caused by blunt force trauma to the head. Sullivan suffered seven broken ribs and a bruised lung in the attack, and his body showed multiple bruises and abrasions. A two-by-four piece of lumber was among the objects found near Sullivan’s body.

No camera captured footage of the actual crime or the area where Sullivan’s body was eventually found, but investigators testified that cameras in the area made it possible to see who entered the high-traffic area and how quickly they passed through.

Potter told investigators during an interrogation on July 13 that he was not a violent person and had only been in one fight in his life.

“I don’t have quarrels and I don’t have enemies,” Potter said. “I might get frustrated like anyone else, but I’ve never harmed anyone. I don’t hurt people.”

Several possible motives were presented during Potter’s preliminary hearing. Lawrence Police Detective David Garcia testified that Sullivan had reportedly told several people that he was awaiting a large check, but a Topeka mental health facility where Sullivan lived before coming to Lawrence had power of attorney over his financial affairs and told investigators the check was never cashed.

Garcia said he had also interviewed a man who was alleged to have had had an argument with Sullivan at Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center in Lawrence. In an interview with Garcia, the man said Sullivan told him that he led the neo-nazi aryan brotherhood gang while in prison and that he was still the “shot caller.”

During his interrogation on July 13, Potter said he was aware of Sullivan’s purported affiliation, but said it hadn’t created conflict between the two.

“He was a pretty decent guy,” Potter tells investigators. “It did come off kind of funny to me. It seems as though maybe he wants to seem harmful to people — just to have that title to people.”

Both the check and Sullivan’s aryan brotherhood claims were mentioned briefly during trial testimony, but prosecutors didn’t focus on either issue.

Some of the evidence collected from the crime scene was submitted to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation to look for fingerprints and test for DNA, but two plastic cups, several cigarette butts, a toothbrush and other items were not sent.

Blood on the board found near the body proved to match DNA from blood samples taken from Sullivan. Potter’s DNA was not found on the board. Swabs from Potter’s shoes identified blood, but DNA from that sample was matched only to Potter.


In his closing argument, defense attorney John Kerns called into question the LPD’s investigation of Sullivan’s death. He reminded jurors of testimony from Detective Kimberlee Nicholson, who said police stopped pursuing suspects after Potter was arrested on July 13.

He also asked jurors to consider that police may have overlooked potential suspects after a tip called in to police was never chased after the report was entered into the case file. Kerns used the prosecutor’s map to point out multiple nearby camps set up for people experiencing homelessness, as well as wooded areas along the Kansas River known to hold individual campsites.

He noted that the location of Sullivan’s body was easily accessible from those areas, and that police offered no surveillance footage tracking the areas between the camps and the scene of the crime.

Kerns told jurors he believed investigators found an easy suspect and moved forward with Potter in an effort to close the case quickly. Unfortunately for prosecutors, he said, the evidence didn’t support proof beyond a reasonable doubt in the case.

“Not by any means,” Kerns said. “It doesn’t even come close.”

Andrea Albright/Lawrence Times Defense attorney John Kerns leans back momentarily after the jury’s verdict is read. Next to him is his client, Chadwick Potter.

Hanley told Potter he was released, but she was asking the Douglas County jail’s reentry staff to help him make arrangements.

The district attorney’s office, Kerns and Potter all declined to comment after the verdict was read.

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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 acquits man charged in beating death of Lawrence man

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A jury on Thursday found Chadwick E. Potter not guilty of second-degree murder in the death last summer of 62-year-old David Sullivan.


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