Jury deliberations ongoing in trial for two men accused in murder of Nashville nurse

Posted at 5:17 AM, Jan 30, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-31 13:51:07-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The trial for two men accused in the murder of Nashville nurse Caitlyn Kaufman resumed on Monday with closing arguments. The jury's deliberations are still underway.

Caitlyn Kaufman was killed on I-440 two years ago. The 12 jurors will decide if the men the state says are responsible should be convicted on first-degree murder charges.

After Judge Angelita Blackshear Dalton read the instructions to the jury Monday, two alternates were dismissed and the jury broke for lunch around 11:40 a.m. Deliberations started immediately after — but after more than six hours, they told the judge they had not yet reached a verdict.

It is the jury's job to determine if the prosecution presented enough evidence to show beyond a reasonable doubt that Devaunte Hill and James Cowan should each serve one count of a first-degree premeditated murder conviction.

This comes after one of the defendants gave eye-opening testimony about what led to the shooting that killed the nurse.

Hill’s public defenders admitted he shot at Caitlyn Kaufman’s SUV on the evening of December 3, 2020. But the attorney argued that Hill shouldn’t be charged with first-degree murder because the shooting wasn’t premeditated.

Hill said on the day of the shooting in 2020, he had just left his brother’s house with the other defendant, James Cowan. Hill testified he wasn't thinking clearly because he had also just done cocaine and taken Xanax.

Before getting in the car, Hill said he placed his loaded gun on his lap. As Cowan was driving on Interstate 440, Hill said Kaufman cut them off and Cowan swerved around her. That's when Hill fired the gun without knowing who was inside the other car.

He said multiple times that Cowan had nothing to do with the shooting and that it just happened in an instant.

Prosecutor Jan Norman said Cowan is just as guilty of the killing as Hill is because he had to maintain enough speed for the two to be side by side with Kaufman’s SUV for Hill to shoot out the window and aim his gun at Kaufman's car.

The jury heard closing remarks after listening to five days of testimony from the prosecution and the defense.

"Mr. Cowan had the power and control to allow this shooting to occur or to stop it. Mr. Cowan is the person that could have stopped this from happening. He assisted Mr. Hill; he aided him," said Jan Norman, assistant district attorney.

"[There's] no proof that he solicited, ordered, directed, commanded or helped anybody to kill anyone," argued Ronald Munkeboe, James Cowan’s attorney.

The prosecution said that both Hill and Cowan committed this crime because Hill was the shooter and Cowan the driver.

They said the evidence throughout the trip showed it was a crime that was unlawful, that there was motive, and that the defendants did not stop to render aid and instead tried to hide evidence.

The state rested its case on Friday, with the defense following on Saturday afternoon — ending the evidence phase of the trial.

The defense said the crime was not premeditated — the shooting was not enacted with the intention to kill — and therefore, both defendants should be convicted of a lesser charge.

"His actions were unjustifiable, thoughtless, but he didn’t intend to kill her," said Jason Chaffin, public defender for Devaunte Hill.

The jury has the option to give a verdict for premeditated first-degree murder. If they don’t believe there’s enough evidence to prove this, then all 12 jurors will need to decide on a lesser conviction.

The jury could also acquit one or both of the defendants.

Deliberations will resume Tuesday morning at 9 a.m., weather permitting.

Timeline of events

On the evening of December 3, 2020, Caitlyn Kaufman was driving along Interstate 440 on her way to work at Ascension Saint Thomas Hospital when she was shot and killed.

According to Metro Police, a Metro Parks officer had seen a Mazda SUV on the right shoulder against the guard rail and assuming the driver had crashed, he approached to help. Inside they found Kaufman, who had died from a gunshot wound.

Investigators said there were bullet holes in the window of the car. They believe the bullets were fired into the SUV.

Detectives said six rounds were fired into the vehicle.

A week later, on December 11, then 21-year-old Devaunte L. Hill was taken into custody and charged with criminal homicide.

READ: Suspect arrested in Nashville nurse's murder had violent history

A day later, a second suspect, James Edward Cowan, also known as James Lillard was arrested and charged with first-degree murder.

In January 2021, a witness testified that he heard one of the suspects confess to killing Kaufman and said the suspect claimed they shot the nurse because she may have cut them off on I-440.

READ: Caitlyn Kaufman case bound over to grand jury; Witness testifies he heard suspect confess to killing nurse