‘This is not a case with a smoking gun,’ state says at murder trial for man accused in death near downtown Lawrence

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World

Chadwick Potter is pictured during his murder trial on April 22, 2024, in Douglas County District Court. Potter is charged with second-degree murder in connection with the bludgeoning death of David B. Sullivan on July 12, 2023.

A murder trial for a man accused of bludgeoning another man near downtown Lawrence began on Monday, and the state said it’s case is based on circumstantial evidence.

On trial is Chadwick Elliot Potter, 35, who is a transient who has lived in numerous states throughout the years and told police he only arrived in Lawrence a few weeks prior to the alleged murder. He was originally charged with one count of first-degree murder, but after a preliminary hearing, he was bound over on a lesser second-degree murder charge when Judge Amy Hanley said the state presented no evidence of premeditation to support a first-degree charge, as the Journal-World reported.

The charge relates to the death of David Blaine Sullivan, 62, of Lawrence who was found dead around 10:45 a.m. on July 12, 2023, in the northwest corner of the intersection at Sixth and Vermont streets near the southbound Kansas River Bridge. Investigators believe Sullivan was beaten to death with a two-by-four found near his body.

In opening arguments, Deputy District Attorney Joshua Seiden said that Sullivan’s body was reported and police quickly determined that Sullivan was dead and foul play was suspected. Nearby was a wooden board with blood stains on it and Sullivan too had blood stains in his hair, he said, but after the investigation got underway it was clear that there were no witnesses to the crime or who knew much about what could have happened to Sullivan.

“Police knew David Sullivan was dead but not much else,” Seiden said.

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World

Deputy District Attorney Joshua Seiden refers to a map of Downtown Lawrence during the murder trial for Chadwick Potter on April 22, 2024, in Douglas County District Court.

Investigator’s later recovered surveillance footage from nearby businesses that showed Sullivan walking around the area on the evening of July 11 with another person, later determined to be Potter, and Potter was carrying a wooden board. Later in the evening, after midnight, Potter can be seen walking back through the area alone and Potter later confirmed to police that he was the one in the video with Sullivan but that he left Sullivan alive and well.

Seiden said that the board found with Sullivan tested positive for Sullivan’s DNA but Potter’s DNA was not present. But of all the people seen on the surveillance footage, only Potter was seen with Sullivan and carrying a board.

“This is not a case with a smoking gun,” Seiden said.

There is no video of the incident and no eyewitnesses and while the evidence is circumstantial, Seiden said he would prove to the jury beyond a reasonable doubt that Potter is guilty.

Potter’s attorney, John Kerns, said that Sullivan’s death was a “brutal” incident and a “tragedy” for his family and friends but that Potter has been falsely accused based on the assumptions of the state. He said that Potter was a homeless man just trying to survive who, when asked by police about the incident, was willing to give a statement.

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World

Attorney John Kerns is pictured at his client’s, Chadwick Potter, murder trial on April 22, 2024, in Douglas County District Court.

Kerns noted that the area where Sullivan was found is a high traffic area for pedestrians, bikes, and automobiles alike. He said the area was adjacent to multiple homeless encampments with over 80 residents who had access to the area. He added that after the alleged murder of Sullivan, Potter was contacted by police in the downtown area days later and at no point tried to flee the area.

He said the cameras that saw Potter and Sullivan together saw two men on a “cordial stroll” downtown, no quarrel, no standoff between rivals. He said the state’s case will provide no motive for why Potter would kill Sullivan and no time of death as to when Sullivan might have been killed.

“This case is lacking substance and law enforcement is jumping to conclusions, or at least the state is,” Kerns said.

After opening arguments, the state presented testimony from the first responding medic and officers on the scene before the court recessed for the evening. The trial will continue on Tuesday and is expected to last all week.

Potter is in custody at the Douglas County Jail on a $1 million bond.

photo by: Contributed

David Blaine Sullivan

photo by: Kim Callahan/Journal-World

A tarp covers the scene of a dead body on Wednesday, July 12, 2023, at the intersection of Sixth and Vermont Streets. The man’s body was reported found around 10:45 a.m.


Welcome to the new LJWorld.com. Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.