Key witness, emotional testimony highlight Caitlyn Kaufman murder trial
Two men are accused of murdering a Nashville nurse while driving on I-440 in 2020.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - Thursday was another emotional day in the trial of two men accused of killing a Nashville nurse in December 2020.
Testimony on Thursday explained how 26-year-old Caitlyn Kaufman died on Dec. 3, 2020. Kaufman was on her way to work when she was shot and killed on Interstate 440.
Devaunte Hill and James Cowan are now on trial for her death.
Kaufman’s dad, who lunged after the defendants during a preliminary hearing, had to leave the courtroom during Thursday’s gruesome testimony.
The Kaufman family was warned that witnesses on Thursday may reveal details of Caitlyn Kaufman’s death they don’t want to hear. Witnesses described what the bullet did to Caitlyn Kaufman when she was shot.
Diane Kaufman, Caitlyn’s mom, was comforted by her son as they listened to how her daughter and sister was killed.
Davidson County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Erin Carney testified Thursday afternoon.
She said a bullet hit Kaufman’s left arm, through her chest and landed in her right arm.
“How long would you say Miss Kaufman would be conscious following receiving this wound?” Assistant District Attorney Roger Moore asked.
“Not very long,” Carney replied.
Caitlyn Kaufman was a nurse at Saint Thomas Ascension West. She was driving to work in her scrubs and jacket when she was shot on I-440.
Jacques Merrell-Odom, a friend of Hill, testified against him on Thursday.
He appeared in a yellow jump suit and is serving time for crimes unrelated to the case.
Merrell-Odom revealed what Hill told him days after Kaufman died when he rode with Cowan in a car.
“They were the interstate. He said that the care had got on the interstate and almost wrecked into them,” Merrell-Odom testified. “I guess he thought it was someone else, so he shot up the car.
“He was acting weird, and he said, ‘Man, I f**ked up. They kept asking if I got rid of the gun’ and he showed me the article of what happened.”
“And what article was that?” Merrell-Odom was asked.
“The Caitlyn article,” he replied.
Merrell-Odom said he traded guns with Hill and went to Saint Thomas Ascension West where he believed Diane Kaufman would be.
That’s where Metro Police officer Adam Read spoke with him, asking him about the reward money.
“He knew exactly who was involved and he had personal conversations with the persons involved in the homicide,” Read testified. “He even stated, and I quote, he would be able to get the gun back for us.”
Eventually Metro Police said they found the gun in Merrell-Odom’s car and they issued warrants for Hill.
There were many tears during Thursday’s testimony by the Kaufman family.
Diane Kaufman was also thankful for many of the witnesses who testified on Thursday, at times personally thanking them as they left the courtroom.
The trial is expected to resume Friday at 8:30 a.m. and will likely continue into Saturday.
The trial of two men charged with the murder of a Nashville nurse while she drove to work in December of 2020 moves into its second day on Thursday.
Devaunte Hill and James Cowan are charged with shooting Caitlyn Kaufman on December 3, 2020, while she was driving to work on I-440. A witness testified at a previous hearing that Hill told him he became angry after getting cut off on I-440 and then started shooting.
After a break for lunch, the trial resumes with all parties back in the courtroom.
UPDATE: 1:01 p.m. - The prosecution begins by calling MNPD officer Douglas Belcher to the stand. Belcher specializes in crime scene investigations and was assigned to process Caitlyn Kaufman’s Mazda SUV the night she was murdered. Images of the bullet holes on the vehicle are shown to the jury and officer Belcher describes his findings on each. The Kaufman family becomes emotional during the photos.
UPDATE: 1:50 p.m. - The defense cross-examines officer Belcher on the crime scene findings, specifically the trajectory of the bullets into the vehicle. Officer Belcher is then dismissed.
UPDATE: 2:05 p.m. - The state follows by calling Dr. Erin Carney as their next witness. Dr. Carney serves as the Chief Medical Examiner for Davidson County and performed the autopsy on Caitlyn Kaufman. Her account of the wounds found on Caitlyn are gruesome and the Kaufman family becomes extremely emotional and the father leaves the courtroom.
THURSDAY MORNING RECAP
UPDATE: 8:42 a.m. - The prosecution asks MNPD detective Phillip Klarer to take the stand, who says he carried out the search warrant for Devaunte Hill at his residence on Porter Road, and another gun was discovered. Quick cross-question from the defense and detective Klarer leaves the stand.
UPDATE: 8:53 a.m. - Next for the prosecution is Lisa Whitaker, who works in firearm forensics for MNPD. She describes the tests that were performed on the recovered firearms. Whitaker also goes into detail about the murder weapon, an XD 9mm semi-automatic pistol. The bullets from the gun were not a conclusive match with the ones pulled from Kaufman’s body.
UPDATE: 9:27 a.m. - MNPD Sgt. Adam Read is next to take the stand for the state. He was sent to Ascension St. Thomas West hospital to interview Jacques Merrell-Odom, Devaunte Hill’s childhood friend who explained how Hill told him he was responsible for the nurse’s murder. Sgt. Read described Odom as outgoing and talkative.
The defense questioned Sgt. Read about his conversation with Odom and the reward money. Sgt. Read says Odom brought up the reward and asked how long it would take to receive the money in the first 5 minutes of the interview.
UPDATE: 9:48 a.m. - Break.
UPDATE: 9:58 a.m. - Jacques Merrell-Odom takes the stand for a motion hearing and the jury leaves the courtroom. Odom’s conversation with Sgt. Read is played for the judge. Odom can be heard saying, “I can tell you everything,” and, “I can bring the gun back for you.”
UPDATE: 10:23 a.m. - The jury re-enters the courtroom and Odom is questioned about his conversations with Hill following Kaufman’s murder. Odom explains how he met with Hill on December 6 and took the XD 9mm pistol, and Hill pulled up a news article about Kaufman’s death and said he did that. Odom then reached out to Caitlyn’s mother on Facebook but received no response, so he went to the hospital where she worked to find her.
UPDATE: 11:02 a.m. - Odom is asked if he’s received any reward money for his information, to which he says, “Yes, I have.” He’s asked if the amount is over $50,000, and he replies, “yes.”
Public defender Georgia Sims now cross-examines for the defense. She attempts to poke holes in Odom’s story of how Hill told him he “f*cked up,” and was responsible for Kaufman’s death.
UPDATE: 11:45 a.m. - Members of the Cowan and Hill family are escorted out of the courtroom. Several members of each family remain. Cross-examination wraps for Odom and he is asked to step down from the stand.
The court heard opening arguments and witness testimonies on Wednesday, including from Caitlyn’s mother, Diane, who was emotional in recounting the moment she received the call about her daughter’s death.
The jury also heard from several responding officers from the night Kaufman was killed. Each described evidence at the scene and details of the investigation. A fellow nurse and friend who worked with Caitlyn also took the stand on Wednesday.
The most perplexing moment from the courtroom on Wednesday came when one of the defendants, James Cowan, appeared to nearly fall asleep during testimonies.
Following the conclusion of opening statements, Assistant District Attorney Jan Norman called Caitlyn’s mother, Diane, to the stand as the first witness for the prosecution.
Diane Kaufman described how she was on the phone with Caitlyn the night she was shot. She ended the conversation to enter a store but called her back when she was done, and Caitlyn did not answer. She later received a call from another nurse stating that Caitlyn never showed up for work.
Diane recounted how she knew something had happened to Caitlyn when she checked her phone location and it was on I-440, not moving.
The defense had no cross-examination questions for Caitlyn’s mother. Next up for the prosecution was a nurse who worked with Caitlyn in the Intensive Care Unit at St. Thomas West, Jessica Dunn.
Dunn explained how Caitlyn always showed up to work early and that she attempted to call her that night but didn’t get an answer. After failing to contact Caitlyn’s mother, she later heard about what happened on the news.
After a brief recess, all parties reconvened around 10:20 a.m., and the prosecution called Metro Parks Police Sgt. Brian Thompson to the stand. Thompson was the officer that found Kaufman in her car on I-440 that night and he parked his car in front of hers to prevent it from rolling. Again, no cross from the defense for Sgt. Thompson.
Prosecutors called their next witness: Metro Police Sgt. Chris Dickerson. He testified Jacques Merrell Odom, a childhood friend of Hill, turned the alleged killer in. Odom told police everything about who killed Kaufman in five minutes. That’s unusual, Dickerson said. Odom said he had the gun used to kill Kaufman. Odom said he and Hill traded weapons at some point.
Investigators found the firearm in Odom’s glovebox and matched the shell casings found at the crime scene. This was enough for investigators to write a search warrant for Hill.
Prosecutors later played an interview Metro Police had with Hill after he was brought to police headquarters after the warrants were issued on Dec. 11, 2020.
During opening arguments, Norman jumped straight in and described what happened on Dec. 3, 2020, focusing on the number of bullets fired at Caitlyn’s vehicle and where they struck her body.
Norman then explains how cell phone data was analyzed and showed how Devaunte Hill searched for “Nashville shooting” through Google that same night. Cell data also showed how Hill texted a news article of the shooting to Jacques Merrell Odom, admitting he was involved.
Odom is a childhood friend of Hill’s who told Metro Nashville Police where the gun was, and Hill was responsible. Odom also went to the hospital and asked to speak with Caitlyn’s mother, Diane.
Opening arguments from each defense team for Hill and James Cowan followed.
Cowan’s attorneys explained how nothing proves he even had a weapon, much less fire one that day. Public defender Georgia Sims looked at the jury and stated, “Devaunte Hill is responsible for Kaufman’s death.” Furthermore, explaining how Hill fired the gun and lied to the police.
The murder trial for the men accused of killing a Nashville nurse in December of 2020 concluded jury selection on Tuesday.
The defense team brought John Morris to the stand on Tuesday afternoon. He’s an attorney they tried to prove is a cell phone data expert.
Assistant District Attorney Jan Norman questioned Morris to prove otherwise, arguing that talking to people, reading blog posts, and recalling studies do not make him an expert.
Afterward, Norman called TBI Special Agent Andrew Vallee to the stand to prove Morris does not have the required training.
“There’s a lot of training that goes into this that requires to know the anomalies, the ins, and outs of the systems, problems that occur,” Vallee said.
Judge Angelita Blackshear Dalton is expected to make a decision on Morris during the trial.
Kaufman was found slumped over her steering wheel in her car on I-440 by a Metro Parks officer. Last year, the lead investigator testified that the officer came upon Kaufman’s car originally thinking it was a wreck but discovered several bullet holes. The car was still running, and her foot was on the brake, according to testimony.
Six days after the shooting, police arrested Hill. Investigators took Cowan into custody more than a month later. Metro Police said they recovered two pistols from Cowan’s car after his arrest and discovered that Cowan and Hill knew each other.
Cell phone data put both men in the crime scene area when Kaufman was killed that December evening, according to authorities.
Hill and Cowan are charged with first-degree murder in Kaufman’s death and both have pleaded not guilty to the charges.
During a preliminary hearing in November, Kaufman’s parents came face to face with the two suspects in her murder.
Her mother struggled to hold back tears while her father lunged through the partition in the courtroom at the defense table. Bailiffs removed Kaufman’s dad from the courtroom, and he sat outside for the remainder of the hearing.
Both men appeared briefly in court on Monday before being escorted out so the jury selection could begin. The court wrapped up the jury process late Tuesday morning.
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