Video of murder suspect’s interrogation shown; defense tries to cast doubt on police investigation; jury deliberating

photo by: Kim Callahan/Journal-World

Chadwick Potter is pictured with his attorney Wednesday, April 24, 2024, in Douglas County District Court.

Story updated at 5:45 p.m. Wednesday, April 24:

A transient man accused of beating a blind man to death in downtown Lawrence told police that he and the man peacefully smoked marijuana together on a July night last year and that he then left the man alive and well near the Kansas River bridge — a narrative that the state disputes with a collection of circumstantial evidence but that the defense has sought to bolster by suggesting that other people may have killed the man and that the police investigation was inadequate.

The jury began deliberating on Wednesday afternoon in the murder trial of Chadwick Potter in Douglas County District Court after hearing another half day of evidence and closing arguments.

On Wednesday, which was the third day of the trial, jurors saw a partially redacted video of a handcuffed Potter discussing with detectives the death of 62-year-old Lawrence resident David Blaine Sullivan, who had been bludgeoned to death with a two-by-four on July 11, 2023.

photo by: Kim Callahan/Journal-World

Lawrence Police Detective Kimberlee Nicholson watches the taped interrogation of Chadwick Potter, in video at left, on Wednesday, April 24, 2024, in Douglas County District Court.

During the taped interrogation, Potter, then 34, identifies himself as a homeless man who casually associated with Lawrence’s homeless community but who did not know anyone well. He said he had come to Lawrence with thoughts of attending the University of Kansas but that he had been homeless for a long time and was just doing what he needed “for survival” and laying his head where he could. He said in the course of being homeless he had found himself in jail a lot for “stupid sh-t.”

He described his initial encounter with Sullivan in downtown Lawrence as nothing out of the ordinary, though he said Sullivan claimed to be the leader of the Aryan Brotherhood and was known as Sandman.

Potter told the detectives that he had “no quarrel” with Sullivan and that he “was a pretty decent guy,” though he seemed kind of “off” that night for some reason he couldn’t put his finger on, perhaps something to do with his medication or with feeling “threatened” by other homeless individuals, though Potter said he didn’t have any further details about that.

He said Sullivan gave him a shirt and a jar of peanut butter and that the two of them walked around and smoked. He said that Sullivan handed him a two-by-four to carry and also asked him for help with his pill bottle, though Potter said he didn’t know what that medication was for. Potter said he helped him.

When detectives confronted Potter with their belief that he had killed Sullivan — based on video footage and other “red flags” including the two-by-four he had carried — Potter denied that he had and said he last saw Sullivan sitting on the ground.

Sullivan’s badly beaten body was discovered the next morning in a wooded area near the Sixth Street and Vermont intersection, alongside a bloody two-by-four.

Lawrence Police Detective Kimberlee Nicholson testified on Wednesday about the interrogation and the murder investigation, telling jurors about surveillance and traffic video that she said showed people passing by the area where Sullivan was found. She said that only one person — Potter — came in and out of the video frames in a long enough time period to have committed the crime. The others, she said, passed through the area in around half a minute or so. She also discussed how in the video, which jurors saw earlier this week, Potter was seen carrying the two-by-four alongside Sullivan and later was seen alone without it, nervously looking back to where Sullivan’s body would have been.

Deputy District Attorney Joshua Seiden asked Nicholson if, in the video footage she reviewed, she had ever observed Sullivan himself carrying a wooden board, and she replied no.

photo by: Kim Callahan/Journal-World

Lawrence Police Detective Kimberlee Nicholson discusses homeless campsite locations in Lawrence on Wednesday, April 24, 2004, in Douglas County District Court. Chadwick Potter’s attorney, John Kerns, is at left.

Potter’s attorney, John Kerns, sought to cast doubt on the state’s case by questioning Nicholson about the thoroughness of the murder investigation, suggesting that the police had settled quickly on Potter and neglected other possibilities. For example, Kerns suggested that some evidence at the crime scene, like cigarette butts and cups, had not been tested for DNA, and that Lawrence was home to a large number of campsites for homeless people, many in the vicinity of the crime scene.

Before resting his case, Kerns called his only witness, a man who said he drove south across the river bridge every morning around 6:30 and that on the day that Sullivan’s body would be discovered he noticed a group of three or four people on bicycles forming a kind of wall where Sullivan’s body was later discovered to have been. He guessed they were about 50 yards away from his vehicle. He said that two of the people — a dark-complected woman with feathered hair, maybe in her 30s, and a Black man with a graying beard, maybe in his 40s — “looked at me like they were up to something … like I had pulled up on something.”

“It’s just something that looked out of place to me,” he said, so he called the police and made a report, but he said no one ever followed up with him about it.

Nicholson had testified earlier that she reviewed footage from cameras at the intersection and did not see any such people.

Potter did not testify in his own defense.

photo by: Kim Callahan/Journal-World

Deputy District Attorney Joshua Seiden is pictured Wednesday, April 24, 2024, at the murder trial of Chadwick Potter in Douglas County District Court.

In closing arguments, the prosecution rebutted the defense claim that the police were somehow looking to quickly pin the death on Potter and did a less than thorough job in their haste. Seiden said that the police had in fact cast a wide net and that an ample amount of circumstantial evidence, including the video of the two men together, along with a board, had led them to Potter.

As to the “why” behind the killing, Seiden reminded the jury that, while people may reasonably wonder why something happened, the state was not required to prove a motive, and he referred repeatedly to a statement Potter made in the taped interrogation: “Everything I do on a daily basis really doesn’t have any rhyme or reason. It’s survival.”

The defense, however, noted that the statement was not a confession of any kind but just a general observation Potter was making about the condition of being homeless. Kerns said that although motive is not required to be proven, it is still an important common-sense consideration. In Potter’s case, he said, the jury was never given a “why.”

“This case sucks!” Kerns bluntly told the jury, characterizing Seiden’s presentation as lacking evidence, and particularly calling jurors’ attention to Seiden’s early announcement that his case would have “no smoking gun” but would rest on circumstantial evidence. “Talk about managing expectations. Wow!” Kerns said. “Did a prosecutor in opening arguments in a murder case … say that?”

Kerns again drew the jury’s attention to some testimony earlier in the case suggesting other people had “a bone to pick” with Sullivan, including one man who had reportedly been in a fight with Sullivan and others in the homeless community who had issues with him.

Getting the last word before the case went to the jury, Seiden argued that the defense had presented no evidence to suggest that the Kansas Bureau of Investigation’s and the Lawrence Police Department’s actions on the case were not in line with industry standards.

“This case sucks? OK. (That’s) articulate, but really?” Seiden said. “Maybe Mr. Kerns has been watching too much ‘CSI.'”

Potter is facing one count of second-degree murder and is being held on a $1 million bond. The jury will resume deliberations at 9 a.m. Thursday.


Welcome to the new 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.