Trial for two men accused of murdering Nashville nurse enters evidentiary phase

Posted at 6:52 AM, Jan 25, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-25 22:49:50-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The trial of two men accused of killing a Nashville nurse has entered the evidentiary phase on its third day.

Watch our Gavel-to-Gavel footage in the video player below:

Gavel-to-Gavel coverage of the Caitlyn Kaufman trial

In December 2020, Caitlyn Kaufman was shot while she was driving to work on I-440. In the month following her death, Devaunte Hill and James Cowan were arrested and charged with first-degree murder. The two men are facing life in prison without parole if they are found guilty.

Defendants Hill and Cowan pled Not Guilty to their charges. Cowan is alleged to have been the driver of the car from which Hill was alleged to have shot Caitlyn.

Hill's attorney said he was guilty of a crime — but not first-degree murder. She argued that he did shoot Caitlyn Kaufman, but he did not intend to kill her. In order to be found guilty of first-degree murder, the prosecution must prove that there was premeditated intent to kill.

Cowan's attorney said his client is innocent.

It took two days for a jury to be selected in this case. After both sides delivered opening statements on Wednesday morning, the first person was called to testify: Diane Kaufman, Caitlyn Kaufman's mother.

Diane was the last person to speak to Caitlyn on December 3, 2020. She gave an emotional testimony to the jury recounting the conversation she had with the Metro Nashville Police Chaplin who told her of her daughter's death.

"He said, 'Mrs. Kaufman are you sitting down?' and I simply said, 'do not tell me my daughter is dead.' And he said, 'Mrs. Kaufman, Caitlyn was fatally injured and she is dead,'" Diane testified.

After Diane Kaufman, the state called Jessica Dunn — an RN at St. Thomas West, as well as a colleague and friend of Caitlyn. Dunn recalled that Caitlyn was not at work on the evening of December 3 and talked about trying to call her unsuccessfully.

Metro Park Police Sergeant Thompson was called next. Thompson said he first saw Caitlyn's SUV on the side of the I-440 while he was out on patrol. He said he tried calling out to her, with no response, until he saw the bullet holes and shattered back window of her vehicle.

After Thompson, MNPD Patrol Officer Cory Stratton was called. Stratton was the second officer on the scene, and he testified to noticing the gunshot in Caitlyn's shoulder after finding her unresponsive.

MNPD Lt. Bryon Dewalt was called. He was the homicide supervisor who responded to the scene. He said he was the one who made the call to shut down the interstate and canvas the area for bullet casings. Dewalt said he located about 3 shell casings and a black flip cell phone at the scene.

During the proceedings, while Nashville Police Crime Scene Investigator Danielle Connor was called and showing the jury crime scene photos of the victim's SUV, Cowan was seen dozing off.

James Cowan seen dozing off during Caitlyn Kaufman murder trial

MNPD Sergeant Dickerson was also called to the stand — he has been the lead detective on the case. Through the evidence he provided, the court heard Hill's interrogation tape from 2020. Dickerson also shared jailhouse calls that Hill made.

In opening statements, ADA Norman told the jury that the defendant had already searched on Google for "Nashville shooting." He said that Hill had sent Facebook messages in the early hours of December 4 about having a .39 gun that he was trying to get rid of. He also said that a childhood friend of Hill came forward to say Hill had confessed to the crime. The friend later helped police locate the murder weapon.

The state called MNPD Officer Rosenfeld, who told the jury he collected the murder weapon from Jacques Merrell-Odom, the confidential informant. Evidence photos showed bullets in the center console of the car and a gun in the glove box.

After Rosenfeld spoke, the jury was dismissed for the day.

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