Mom of slain Nashville nurse testifies in murder trial
Two men are accused of killing the nurse as she drove to work in 2020.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - The mother of a Nashville nurse killed in 2020 took the stand on the first day of testimony on Wednesday in a trial of the two men accused of murdering Caitlyn Kaufman.
Diane Kaufman was called to testify in the murder cases of Devaunte Hill and James Cowan, accused of shooting and killing Caitlyn Kaufman on Interstate 440 on Dec. 3, 2020.
“He said, ‘Mrs. Kaufman, are you sitting down?’ and I said, “Please do not tell me that my daughter is dead,’ and he said, ‘Mrs. Kaufman, Caitlyn was fatally injured, and she is dead,’” Diane Kaufman testified.
Diane Kaufman’s testimony left everyone in the courtroom in tears on Wednesday.
Caitlyn Kaufman is the 26-year-old Saint Thomas Ascension West nurse who was shot and killed on I-440 two years ago.
Diane Kaufman explained what happened when police called her saying her daughter was dead.
The state called investigators, first responders, and Kaufman’s Saint Thomas Ascension colleagues who saw her that morning for the last time.
At one point Cowan was seen sleeping during the trail.
It was at the beginning when the defense team and prosecutors gave their opening statements when there was a glimpse for how the trial might go.
The state was very firm and laid out to the jury what happened that night.
The defense team, on the other hand, said straight up “Hill killed Kaufman.”
“Devaunte Hill is responsible for Caitlyn Kaufman’s death. Before a single witness takes that stand, he wants you to know that even though he did not intend or plan for her to die, he is the person who pulled the trigger and ended her life,” public defender Georgia Sims said during her opening statement.
“That bullet went directly through the driver window, that went directly inter her left arm, that it went through the soft tissue of shoulder, it struck her left lung, it struck her aorta, it struck her right lung, it struck her right lateral rib and came to a rest in her right arm,” Assistant District Attorney Jan Norman said during the state’s opening statement.
The most emotional part of the afternoon was when a Metro Police sergeant showed the jury the gun used to kill Kaufman.
On Wednesday afternoon, it was learned a friend of Hill’s turned him in.
Jurors also heard multiple interviews police had with Hill where he denied being involved with Kaufman’s murder.
Investigators said he has cell phone data showing he was there on I-440 that night.
They said he later admitted he was involved with the murder.
DAY 1 AFTERNOON: 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.
DAY 1 MORNING RECAP:
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.
The state then called MNPD officer Cory Stratton as their next witness. Stratton was the first to respond to the scene and described the bullet holes along the side of her door. He pulled her body into the backseat. After a quick cross from the defense, officer Stratton was asked to step down.
Next up for the state was Lt. Byron Dewalt with the MNPD, who described arriving at the scene and quickly shutting down the interstate for the investigation. Lt. Dewalt said it rained that night and conditions were not ideal for a shooting investigation.
The last person called to the stand before lunch was Danielle Connor, an MNPD civilian crime investigator who also reported to I-440 on December 3. She showed several pictures she took of the scene that night as well as a picture of Kaufman’s phone.
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.
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.
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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