As of Monday night, the jury is being sent home as deliberations continue. They plan to return at 9 a.m. Tuesday, weather permitting.  

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — The trial of the two men accused of killing nurse Caitlyn Kaufman in December 2020 began Monday with closing arguments.

The man accused of pulling the trigger took the stand on Saturday and admitted he was the person behind the gun but Devaunte Hill claims he wasn’t thinking clearly at the time. Hill testified he remembers firing the weapon but that most of the details are a blur.

Hill said he was the passenger in the car with his cousin, James Cowan, and on the way to pick up Cowan’s girlfriend when Kaufman cut them off. He testified he picked up a gun he had in his lap and began firing out the window.

“I don’t remember all the facts of that, I just remember picking up the gun and shooting, that’s it. I can’t tell you how many times I shot, I can’t tell you if I seen the woman, I couldn’t tell you I didn’t see, like, I just reacted recklessly,” said Hill.

Hill admitted that he ended up trading the gun with a friend, as well as lying to the police in order to protect his cousin.

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Caitlyn Kaufman
Caitlyn Kaufman (Courtesy: Butler County Community College)

Who was Caitlyn Kaufman?

The 26-year-old was on her way to work as an ICU nurse at Ascension Saint Thomas West when she was shot and killed while driving on Interstate 440. Detectives believe she pulled her SUV over to the shoulder of the busy interstate after she was shot. 

Her body was discovered inside her vehicle two hours later by a Metro Parks employee with the SUV still running and her foot on the brake. Kaufman is believed to have died within minutes after gunshots were fired into her vehicle. 

A tip from a citizen led to the arrest of 23-year-old Devaunte Hill nine days after Kaufman’s death. Information from that same tip led investigators to James Cowan, 30, who was also arrested and charged in her death. 

James Cowan and Devaunte Hill
James Cowan and Devaunte Hill (Courtesy: Metro Nashville Police Department)

Investigators said Cowan was in the vehicle with Hill the night Kaufman was killed. 

A witness in a preliminary hearing claimed Hill implicated himself as the shooting and said road rage was the motive. 

Cowan and Hill could face up to life in prison without parole if convicted of first-degree murder. They have been held at the Metro jail since their arrests. 

The men will be tried together with separate attorneys representing them. 

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The murder trial so far

It took two days to select the jury, which was finalized Tuesday afternoon. On Wednesday, jurors first heard testimony from Diane Kaufman, the victim’s mother before one of her nursing colleagues, Jessica Dunn. 

The prosecution then called the Parks officer who first responded to Kaufman’s stopped SUV and the first responding officers who arrived to the scene. 

A crime scene investigator then testified regarding the 59 photographs she took of the scene along I-40 where Kaufman’s SUV was found, including images of her SUV riddled with bullet holes. 

The key witness in the murder trial and the Medical Examiner took the stand Thursday. Jacques Merrell-Odom, who goes by “Guxxi,” was shackled and wearing a yellow jumpsuit as he is currently behind bars on unrelated charges.

Merrell-Odom is a childhood friend of Hill and ultimately came forward, telling investigators that Hill was the shooter and leading them to the weapon used in Caitlyn’s death. Merrell-Odom said he had traded guns with Hill, not knowing it was the murder weapon at the time. After learning the gun was indeed the murder weapon, Merrell-Odom told his mother who used to be a nurse; she ultimately encouraged him to come forward.

During his cross-examination, Merrell-Odom recalled hearing both suspects discussing the shooting after it happened.

Merrell-Odom received more than $50,000 in reward money, and his interest in the reward money was highlighted during questioning of Sgt. Adam Read with the Metro Police Homicide Unit.

On Friday, Jan. 27, the proceedings revolved around various types of cell phone data connecting Hill and Cowan to Caitlyn’s death before the prosecution rested its case.

“This was done purposely and intentionally because Ms. Kaufman cut them off,” said Assistant District Attorney Jan Norman.

However, Assistant Deputy Public Defender Georgia Sims, who is representing one of the suspects, continued to argue that her client acted in a moment of anger, calling it “an incident of road rage.”

The prosecution brought in expert witnesses to walk the jury through cell phone locations, messages, Google searches, and other data from multiple devices to support their case that both Hill and Cowan are guilty of a premeditated murder.

For example, messages showed Hill tried to trade the weapon involved in the shooting within 12 hours of the incident, according to experts. Investigators said they also recovered images and videos of Hill and Cowan waving guns around at a “gang party” two days after Caitlyn’s death.

The evidence was strong enough for Judge Dalton to reject a motion of acquittal from both suspects, allowing the trial to continue.

Testimony is set to continue Monday at 8:30 a.m. The trial is expected to last about a week.