Jury finds one man guilty, second one walks free in Nashville nurse murder trial
A jury convicted Devaunte Hill of second-degree murder and found James Cowan not guilty after they were accused of murdering a Nashville nurse while driving on I-440 in 2020.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - A man was found guilty of second-degree murder for shooting and killing a Nashville nurse while his cousin was set free.
Devaunte Hill shot at 26-year-old Caitlyn Kaufman while she was on her way to work at Saint Thomas Ascension West Hospital in December 2020.
James Cowan, who driving the car Hill shot from, was acquitted by a Davidson County jury.
When the jury read that James Cowan was not guilty, there was silence from the Kaufman family.
The same thing happened when Hill was found guilty of the lesser charge of second-degree murder.
Both Hill and Cowan were charged with first-degree murder.
After the verdicts were read, the Kaufman family and state prosecutors left the courtroom without comment.
The attorneys for Hill and Cowan were relieved with the verdict, hugging in the courtroom and outside after.
Their families also said they were happy with the verdict knowing Hill will not be in prison for life.
“Everybody sees the truth. He’s going to be straight. He’s going to be well taken care of,” a family member said after the verdict.
“Devaunte has always been what you see, which is a reserved young man who’s been in a really tough situation, and he doesn’t show a lot of outward emotion, but he was very relieved and believes it was a just verdict as well,” Hill’s attorney Jason Chaffin said.
Jury deliberations took about 12 hours.
Hill’s sentencing hearing will be held on March 3. He will face 15 to 25 years in prison.
Both Hill and Cowan appeared in court before Judge Angelita Dalton as she spoke briefly to the jury. The courtroom cleared out a short time later for members of the jury to resume deliberations.
The state attempted to convince jurors that the shooting was premeditated.
Devaunte Hill picked up his gun and shot at least six times at Kaufman’s car, and prosecutors believe he didn’t do this alone.
In Assistant District Attorney Jan Norman’s closing argument on Monday, she said James Cowan and Hill decided to gun Kaufman down because she cut them off.
She said as the driver, Cowan had the power to stop the shooting or let it happen. Hill had the option to pick up the gun or leave it.
“This case is about Caitlyn Kaufman. It’s about murder. It’s about taking something they had no right to take,” Assistant District Attorney Roger Moore said during closing arguments.
The defense team said Hill didn’t intend to kill Kaufman and they said there’s no proof Cowan meant for the shooting to happen.
“There’s no proof that he solicited, ordered, directed, commanded or helped anybody to kill anyone,” Cowan’s attorney Ron Munkeboe said during closing arguments. “In fact, you heard no proof Mr. Cowan knew anyone was going to be killed.”
“Devaunte Hill should be held responsible, and he expects to be held responsible for the crime that he committed, but he’s not guilty of first-degree premeditated murder,” Hill’s attorney Jason Chaffin said.
There were a lot of members of the Kaufman family in the courtroom on Monday. There were a lot of sobbing and boxes of tissues emptied as attorneys gave their closing arguments. A lot of the Cowan and Hill families were also present in the courtroom.
Jury deliberations began around noon on Monday and wrapped up just before 6 p.m. Deliberations are set to resume at 9 a.m., weather permitting.
SATURDAY MORNING RECAP
Devaunte Hill took the stand on Saturday while James Cowan waived his right to testify on his own behalf.
Saturday began with testimony from Dr. Eric Warren, an expert in crime scene investigations for the defense. Next, the court prepared to hear from both Hill and Cowan.
Cowan waived his right to take the stand, upon which Judge Angelita Dalton asked if he had the opportunity to discuss the decision with his lawyers, to understand fully what he was doing. Hill then agreed to testify.
Hill explained how he and Cowan are cousins and admits that he was the one who fired the shots that killed Caitlyn Kaufman. He told the court he “wasn’t thinking” when it happened and Cowan had nothing to do with it.
Hill attributed his actions partly to smoking marijuana, using cocaine and taking a Xanax pill prior to the incident. He said he didn’t call the police about what happened because he was scared.
The jury was seated at around 8:30 a.m. on Friday and the trial resumed with more witness testimony.
MNPD detective Chad Gish, who analyzed the cell phone data from the scene, was first up for the prosecution. Gish said he recounts the exact time when GPS data showed Caitlyn Kaufman’s slowed down on the interstate: “I’ll never forget this time, 6:08:41.”
Detective Gish explained how Devaunte Hill’s phone was an android, which does not track GPS locations as well as iPhones. It was difficult to figure out if Hill was on I-440 at the time of the murder. Gish must to reach out to FBI headquarters in Quantico, VA, for guidance on how to extract GPS data from an android device.
Gish explained how finding James Cowan’s number and messages in Hill’s phone were “very important to this case.”
Gish detailed messages sent from Hill’s phone the morning after Kaufman’s death, that asked someone to trade him something for his weapon. Hill also used his phone to dig up an article from Fox 17 titled, “Local nurse shot and killed on I-440W.” Gish believes this is when Hill learned Kaufman was a nurse.
Data from Cowan’s girlfriend, Dimeneshia Carter, showed a message from Cowan 3 minutes after Kaufman was shot, telling her that he was at a stop light and would meet her outside of her work. That light was found to be near I-440. Carter’s phone also revealed a picture of a Cadillac SUV, that would later be associated with Cowan and the shooting.
Detective Gish explained how the license plate from the Cadillac SUV picture matched the plate taken from the vehicle that was set on fire on December 12. Furthermore, Gish visited Carter’s sister at her home on Oriole Avenue, and he observed a Mitsubishi car parked at the residence. The Mitsubishi matched a getaway car seen at the car fire on December 12.
A 14-minute conversation between Caitlyn and her mother before she was killed is played. Diane Kaufman could be heard crying.
Following a lunch break, Special Agent Vallee took the stand to analyze cell phone carrier data. According to cell phone carrier data, Vallee says Hill was near Porter Road in East Nashville on Dec. 3 around 4:53 p.m. Cowan’s phone was also there around then. At 6:01 p.m., on Dec. 3, Kaufman and Cowan’s phones overlap around Briley Parkway on I-40.
A photo of Hill and Cowan at a birthday party three days after Kaufman was shot and killed was shown in court. Cowan is seen flashing a gun and Hill had a wad of cash.
The state rested its case.
The defense called John Morris back on the stand before the jury was dismissed for the day.
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.
Key witness, emotional testimony highlight Caitlyn Kaufman murder trial
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 were 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 jumpsuit 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 car 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 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.
James Cowan appears to nearly fall asleep during testimonies in court on Wednesday.(WSMV)
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.
Mom of slain Nashville nurse testifies in murder trial
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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