Man ordered to stand trial for 2nd-degree murder in bludgeoning death near downtown Lawrence

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World

Chadwick Elliot Potter is pictured at his preliminary hearing Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023, in Douglas County District Court. Potter was ordered to stand trial on a second-degree murder charge in connection with the death of David Sullivan, 62, of Lawrence.

Updated at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 30

A defendant was ordered to stand trial on Thursday for second-degree murder in connection with a man who was found bludgeoned to death near downtown Lawrence.

The defendant, Chadwick Elliot Potter, 34, was originally charged in Douglas County District Court with one count of first-degree murder in the death of David Blaine Sullivan, 62, of Lawrence, whose body was found on July 12 near the intersection of Sixth and Vermont streets, as the Journal-World reported.

Potter told police in an initial interview, which was shown on video during a court hearing, that he had only been in Lawrence a short period at the time of Sullivan’s death and that he was homeless and had previously lived in Florida, Indiana and Arizona.

Judge Amy Hanley on Thursday ordered Potter to trial on a charge of second-degree, not first-degree, murder, having found no probable cause for premeditation.

Hanley heard evidence at a preliminary hearing earlier in November, when police witnesses presented their investigation and surveillance videos that showed Potter was the last person seen with Sullivan the night before Sullivan was found dead. Police believe Potter can be seen in the videos with the suspected murder weapon, a 41-inch 2-by-4 that was found next to Sullivan’s body, as the Journal-World reported. Hanley had continued the hearing to Thursday so she could review transcripts before making her decision.

The hearing concluded on Thursday with argument from the state, represented by Deputy District Attorney Joshua Seiden, in support of the first-degree murder charge, and arguments from Potter’s attorney, John Kerns, who said that the videos of Potter and Sullivan together prior to Sullivan’s death were at best circumstantial evidence and that there was a large gap that cameras could not see with numerous people passing through the area where Sullivan was found.

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World

Chadwick Potter, left, thanks his attorney, John Kerns, after Kerns successfully argued that the state had not presented evidence of premeditation in connection with a first-degree murder charge, on Nov. 30, 2023, in Douglas County District Court. Potter was ordered to stand trial for second-degree murder in the death of David Sullivan, 62, of Lawrence, on July 12, 2023, near downtown Lawrence.

Seiden began his argument by discussing factors related to premeditation, including the type of weapon used, whether the defendant was provoked by the victim, the demeanor of the defendant before and after the incident, threats made by the defendant toward the victim, and attacks on the victim after the victim was helpless. He added that not all factors must be present but that the court could look at the severity of each factor. He emphasized the blows delivered to Sullivan after he was helpless.

“We have multiple blows resulting in death as stated in the autopsy report and no evidence of defensive wounds (on Sullivan),” Seiden said.

Kerns argued that the state was trying to pull a bait-and-switch by charging Potter with first-degree murder. The first judge who reviewed the affidavit in support of Potter’s arrest, which was sealed by the court, did not find probable cause for first-degree murder and the state was forced to lower the charge to second-degree murder, Kerns said, but then refiled the first-degree charge just before the preliminary hearing despite nothing having changed in the case.

“A preliminary hearing is not some formality where the case is just punted to a jury,” Kerns said.

He stressed that there was a large gap in time between when Potter was seen with Sullivan and when Sullivan’s body was found, and the lead detective in the case, Kimberlee Nicholson, testified that hundreds of people were in and around the area that the camera cannot see after Potter was seen leaving.

Hanley, addressing the factors for premeditation, said that there was no evidence that Sullivan provoked Potter; that Potter remained in the area after Sullivan’s death and did not flee; that there was no evidence presented that Potter threatened Sullivan at any time; and there are not sufficient details about the multiple blows that Sullivan received that suggested he was helpless when the blows were delivered.

“This entire case is circumstantial. Certainly a case can be charged and tried that way,” Hanley said. However, she said that she could not find probable cause to determine that there was premeditation in this case.

Potter remains in custody at the Douglas County Jail on a $1 million bond. He is next scheduled to appear in court on Dec. 6 for arraignment.

Chadwick Elliot Potter is escorted back to a holding cell 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.


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