Surveillance footage indicates suspect in downtown Lawrence homicide was last person seen with victim

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World

Chadwick Elliot Potter appears at his preliminary hearing Nov. 20, 2023, in Douglas County District court. Potter is charged with murder in connection with the death of David Sullivan, 62, of Lawrence.

Surveillance footage presented to the court during a hearing on Monday indicates a homicide suspect was the last person seen with a Lawrence man who was found bludgeoned to death with a wooden board.

The suspect, Chadwick Elliot Potter, 34, is charged in Douglas county District Court with one count of murder in the first degree in connection with the death of David Blaine Sullivan, 62, of Lawrence, who was found dead on July 12 near the intersection of Sixth and Vermont streets, as the Journal-World reported.

Potter appeared for a preliminary hearing on Monday where the state presented evidence to show there was probable cause to believe Potter had killed Sullivan. The state, represented by District Attorney Suzanne Valdez and Deputy DA Joshua Seiden, called several Lawrence police detectives who collected video surveillance from the area of the death and interviewed people who knew Sullivan.

Lawrence police civilian crime scene technician Jana Ramsey testified Monday that she documented the scene where Sullivan was found in the bushes near the southbound exit of the Kansas River bridge. She said that there was a two-by-four about 41 inches long with reddish brown stains laying next to Sullivan and that Sullivan had reddish brown stains on the back of his head.

“It had the appearance of blood,” Ramsey testified.

She said she took hundreds of photos of the scene and assisted coroner scene investigators in making preliminary observations about how Sullivan may have died. She said she also assisted with the autopsy and that Sullivan died of “multiple blunt force injuries” and the manner of his death was homicide.

photo by: Contributed

David Blaine Sullivan

Detective Nathan Haig testified that he collected footage from the front door of Dempsey’s Pub, 623 Vermont St., and from the rear cameras at 643 Massachusetts St. and area traffic cameras. He said footage from Dempsey’s showed Potter and Sullivan walking together just before midnight on July 11 crossing the street just north of Dempsey’s.

Potter can be seen in the video carrying a wooden board around 11:45 p.m. before the two walk out of range of the camera. Haig said that Potter returns into the camera view just after midnight, alone and no longer carrying the board.

In the video, Potter walks along the sidewalk southbound and stops directly in front of Dempsey’s where Potter drops a water bottle and picks it up. Potter is carrying two large bags with him that as he bends over seem to be heavy.

Potter then turns back in the direction of where Sullivan was found and raises a clenched fist before continuing on. Haig said that from that video investigators were able to pull a still image and pass it around the department and an officer was able to identify Potter.

Haig said that other camera angles he collected from 643 Massachusetts corroborated that the two were together; however, in every camera angle Haig was able to collect, the actual spot where Sullivan was found and believed to be killed was obstructed. He said that cameras could see in every direction around that spot and that he tracked hundreds of people in the area and only Potter and Sullivan were seen going into that blind spot at that time.

photo by: Kim Callahan/Journal-World

A forensics team works at the intersection of Sixth and Vermont streets on Wednesday, July 12, 2023, after a man’s body — later determined to be David Blaine Sullivan — was discovered under the nearby trees.

Haig said Potter can be seen hours later on cameras near the homeless camp in North Lawrence. Haig said Potter can be seen entering the area of the camp without a board and is seen shortly after leaving the area of the camp with a board. Haig said at no point is Sullivan seen going to the camp in North Lawrence.

Detective David Garcia testified that he interviewed the man who found Sullivan that morning. He said the witness saw Sullivan in the bushes and called out to him and when Sullivan did not respond the witness called 911. Garcia said he later received information from another witness who claimed to have seen Sullivan lying in the bushes as early as 7 a.m. but thought Sullivan was sleeping until the witness heard about a body being found there.

Garcia said he followed a lead to Bert Nash, where it had been reported that Sullivan had a verbal altercation with a man in the lobby of that facility. Garcia questioned the man Sullivan allegedly had argued with and that man claimed that he and Sullivan had many disagreements but the man had an alibi for the night that Sullivan was killed.

Garcia said he also followed a tip that Sullivan was supposed to be receiving a “large sum of money” from social security the day of his death. He investigated the tip to see if Sullivan received the payment and was maybe killed for the money, but the social security office said that Sullivan had not retrieved the check that was waiting for him, Garcia said.

The lead detective on the case, Kimberlee Nicholson, testified that she conducted an interview with Potter after he was taken into custody on July 13. She reviewed video of that interview with the court.

In the video, Potter said he had only been in town for a short time and did not know the street names or the names of the people within the homeless community though he interacted with the homeless everyday near the bus stop and other places near downtown. He said he hoped to enroll at the University of Kansas sometime while he was here to get his life back on track. He said he was homeless and had been for a while and previously lived in Florida, Indiana, and Arizona and that he had arrest records in each of those places. Potter then waived his Miranda rights agreeing to be questioned without an attorney.

Potter said he knew Sullivan for a short time and that Sullivan introduced himself as “The Sandman” and Sullivan claimed to be the “leader of the Aryan Brotherhood”. He said that Sullivan was kind to him and that the night Sullivan was killed Sullivan had gifted Potter a clean shirt and a jar of peanut butter.

Potter said that he saw Sullivan often at the bus stop across from the library and that night the two had taken a walk together to smoke marijuana. Potter said the two walked to the area near where Sullivan was found but that he left Sullivan alive and well.

When Nicholson confronted Potter with the fact that he was the last person seen with Sullivan and that it appeared he was holding the same type of weapon that police believe was used to kill Sullivan, Potter asked why Nicholson believed a crime had even occurred.

“He was killed,” Potter said,” How do you know?”

“His injuries. He was beaten to death with the two-by-four you were holding,” Nicholson said in the video.

“You’re insinuating I did this? That’s pretty serious,” Potter said.

Nicholson agreed that the accusation was serious and asked Potter if Sullivan was still alive when Potter left him. Potter denied that Sullivan was injured in any way. He said that Sullivan was kind to him and that the two had no quarrel.

Potter added that Sullivan had been complaining about a medication of his and Sullivan previously had a phone conversation that day about homeless people being attacked. When Nicholson asked for more information about the phone call, Potter said he wasn’t paying close attention and didn’t know who the call was with or any of the people who may also have overheard the call at the bus stop.

Nicholson then questioned Potter about another incident that happened prior to Sullivan’s death. She said Potter was allegedly at a gas station a few days earlier and Potter had said he wanted to kill people with a hatchet and had contact with police. Potter said he remembered talking to police in connection with that incident but has no idea why he was accused saying he wanted to kill people.

Potter’s attorney, John Kerns, objected to the state playing that portion of the video and said that the state was trying to introduce evidence through that video without laying foundation by having the officers who were involved testify about the incident. Kerns said that the state was trying to establish the element of premeditation since there was no other evidence as to why Potter would kill Sullivan. Judge Amy Hanley said that she would disregard that portion of the video in making her decision whether to bind Potter over for trial.

Kerns pressed Nicholson about the video surveillance collected by her team of detectives. He asked how many people total were on the videos during the time of the incident. Nicholson there said hundreds of people but only Potter was seen walking with Sullivan and no one was seen in the area after Sullivan is believed to have died.

Kerns said that the video of the area did not show the location where Sullivan died and that the area was a highly trafficked area day and night and the video evidence was at best circumstantial.

Hanley called off the hearing before making her ruling as the court had another engagement. She rescheduled the hearing on Nov. 30 where the state and the defense will present arguments as to whether Potter should stand trial on the murder charge.

Potter remains in custody at the Douglas County jail on a $1 million bond.

photo by: Chris conde/Journal-World

Chadwick Elliot Potter , left to right, defense attorney John Kerns, and Douglas County District Attorney Suzanne Valdez, appear at Potter’s preliminary hearing Nov. 20, 2023, in Douglas County District court. Potter is charged with murder in connection with the death of David Sullivan, 62, of Lawrence.


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