On day 2 of murder trial, jurors see graphic autopsy photos of man bludgeoned to death in downtown Lawrence

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World

Chadwick Potter is pictured during his murder trial on April 23, 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.

Jurors saw gruesome photos on Tuesday of a man who was killed in downtown Lawrence last summer — including images of his smashed skull and bleeding in his brain — on the second day of a murder trial in Douglas County District Court.

The trial is for 35-year-old Chadwick Elliot Potter, a transient who is charged with one count of second-degree murder in the death of David Blaine Sullivan, 62, of Lawrence. Sullivan was found dead around 10:45 a.m. on July 12, 2023, on the northwest corner of the intersection of Sixth and Vermont streets. Investigators believe Sullivan was beaten to death with a 2-by-4 found near his body.

The trial began on Monday with opening statements from Deputy District Attorney Joshua Seiden and Potter’s attorney, John Kerns. And on Tuesday, the jury heard from forensic pathologist Dr. Erin Carney, who conducted Sullivan’s autopsy and concurred that Sullivan was bludgeoned to death.

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World

Forensic pathologist Dr. Erin Carney is pictured on April 23, 2024, in Douglas County District Court. Carney presented multiple images of Sullivan’s autopsy to the jury.

Carney said that Sullivan had been hit in the head, leaving large cuts and ripping away part of his scalp, which was left hanging from his skull like a flap. She said his skull was broken in and pushed down toward the base of his brain.

During the autopsy, Carney said, she cut the top of Sullivan’s skull away to see the extent of the injuries.

One of the photos shown to the jury was of what Carney saw — Sullivan’s head with part of the skull cut away to expose the brain. She pointed out the excessive bleeding inside of Sullivan’s skull.

Carney said Sullivan also had seven ribs broken from being hit in the back, and that his lung was bruised. She said there were signs that insects had chewed on parts of his body after he died.

But there were no signs of defensive wounds — injuries on Sullivan’s arms that would suggest that he had tried to defend himself from an attacker, Carney said.

While Carney’s testimony and photos focused on how Sullivan died, the jury also saw video of one of the last times Sullivan was seen alive.

The video was a surveillance recording from Dempsey’s Burger Pub, 623 Vermont St., and it showed Sullivan and Potter walking west across Vermont Street at around 11:45 p.m. on July 11. Potter is carrying a large wooden board.

Then, about 20 minutes later, the surveillance video shows Potter walking past the camera again, this time alone and going south. Potter no longer has the board with him in this footage. He stops in front of Dempsey’s; looks back, toward the area where Sullivan’s body would later be found; raises a fist to about shoulder height; and then continues walking south.

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World

Chadwick Potter, left, and David Sullivan, are pictured together on surveillance video around 11:45 p.m. on July 11, 2023, in the 600 block of Vermont Street. Potter can be seen carrying a long board.

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World

Chadwick Potter is pictured on surveillance video raising his fist just after midnight on July 12, 2023, outside of Dempsey’s Burger Pub.

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Multiple witnesses called by Seiden testified about the blood-stained 2-by-4 that was found near Sullivan’s body. One of them was Jana Ramsey, a crime scene technician with the Lawrence Police Department. She said the 2-by-4 was one of the pieces of evidence that police collected on the scene; other things police collected, she said, included a baggie of methamphetamine and a bottle of prescription medication for seizures, which were both found in Sullivan’s pocket.

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World

Crime Scene Technician Jana Ramsey holds the 2-by-4 found near David Sullivan’s body with his blood on it. She presented the board during Chadwick Potter’s trial on April 23, 2024, in Douglas County District Court.

Ramsey said police sent the 2-by-4 to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation for testing.

Jena Sparling was the KBI analyst who did that test. She testified that the blood on the 2-by-4 was Sullivan’s, but that she didn’t test the board for other DNA samples. She said it was unlikely she would find anything else usable because of how dirty the board was.

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The jury also heard from two law enforcement officers who interacted with Potter on the day that Sullivan was found dead.

At around 3 a.m. on July 12, Lawrence Police Sgt. Jamie Lawson testified, Potter approached Lawson’s patrol vehicle in downtown Lawrence and started a conversation. Lawson said that he didn’t start his body camera because it wasn’t a nonconsensual interaction like a traffic stop or investigation.

Lawson said he had met Potter a few days before, and that they had walked down Massachusetts Street and talked. At that time, he said, Potter was relaxed and friendly, but on July 12, he said Potter’s demeanor was different.

While Potter still acted friendly, Lawson said, he spoke rapidly and bounced between topics. Lawson said one thing Potter said that night was that he was averse to violence, but that if he had to protect someone “in his community,” he would do what he had to. Lawson said he believed the “community” that Potter was referring to was the homeless community.

Even though Potter was acting differently than he had before, Lawson testified that he didn’t perceive that interaction at the time to be anything more than a casual conversation.

Now-retired Lawrence Police Sgt. Bronson Star testified that he also interacted with Potter on July 12.

Star was called to the Kwik Shop at 845 Mississippi St. around 7:30 p.m. that day — more than eight hours after Sullivan’s body was discovered. There, a clerk alleged that Potter had come in the store and told her that his “intrusive thoughts” were encouraging him to hurt someone.

The clerk said she was afraid Potter might have already hurt someone. But Star said that he determined no crime had been committed at the Kwik Shop, and that Potter was not arrested or issued a citation at that time.

The trial is scheduled to last through Friday. Potter is currently in custody on a $1 million bond.

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World

Sgt. Jamie Lawson is pictured on April 23, 2024, in Douglas County District Court.

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World

Deputy District Attorney Joshua Seiden is pictured on April 23, 2024, in Douglas County District Court.


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