A second man has been arrested and charged in the fatal Dec. 3 shooting of a Nashville nurse killed while driving to work, and the man’s girlfriend has been accused of helping him to avoid capture.
Caitlyn Marie Kaufman, 26, was on her way to work as an intensive care unit nurse at Ascension Saint Thomas Hospital West that night when, as she traveled on Interstate 440, someone fired multiple gunshots into her gray Mazda CX-5 SUV, killing her.
James Edward Cowan, 28, was arrested Tuesday night as the rental car in which he was riding arrived outside the Hickory Hollow Place apartment complex, Nashville Metro Police Department officials said. Detectives, along with state and federal agents, followed the car to the complex from a motel in which Cowan had been staying.
Cowan’s girlfriend, Dimeneshia Carter, 21, was with Cowan when police descended upon the car, police officials said. During questioning, she told detectives she’d stayed with Cowan and drove him around, knowing that he was wanted in Kaufman’s death.
Agents who searched the car found two semi-automatic handguns, 126 rounds of ammunition, a pound of marijuana gummies, seven ounces of marijuana, more than five grams of suspected cocaine, 56 Adderall pills and 238 Xanax “bars,” a news release said.
Carter, who was charged Wednesday as an accessory after the fact, is being held at the Davidson County Jail in lieu of $75,000 bail.
She and Cowan joined Cowan’s co-defendant, Devaunte Lewis Hill, 21, in the jail, where all three remained Friday. Both men are charged with criminal homicide, and Hill, who was arrested Dec. 11, is charged with assault with bodily injury.
Cowan also faces probation violation charges, weapons charges and drug charges, jail records show. He and Hill are being held without bond on the homicide charges.
The motive for the fatal shooting is unclear. Caitlyn Kaufman and her suspected killers did not know one another.
“We have some leads,” lead Detective Chris Dickerson said at a Dec. 11 news conference. “Right now, there’s a lot of things that we’re working on and I can’t say for sure what it is, but we do have some ideas.”
A brutal, random killing
An arrest affidavit in the case states that the crime was discovered just before 9 p.m. Dec. 3 when a Metro Parks police officer spotted Kaufman’s Mazda stopped on the right shoulder of I-440, the engine idling.
“The parks officer thought that the vehicle may have been involved in a wreck and the driver was slumped over,” according to the court document. “The parks officer was able to get over to assist the driver.”
When he approached the vehicle, the officer saw Kaufman slumped over the steering wheel.
Her Mazda was also riddled with at least six bullet holes. A medical examiner found that Kaufman was struck in the shoulder by a single bullet.
She likely died within seconds of being wounded, authorities said.
“Once the female was extracted from the vehicle, the parks officer attempted to render medical aid until Nashville Fire and Medics arrived,” the affidavit states.
Kaufman was pronounced dead at the scene.
That stretch of the interstate where Kaufman was slain was shut down, at which point crime scene investigators located three spent 9 mm bullet casings.
Investigators learned that Kaufman was heading to the hospital for a 7 p.m. shift, and they estimated that the killing took place sometime between 6 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.
Kaufman’s killing came as a shock at a time when medical professionals and first responders have earned hero status for working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Her mother, Diane Kaufman, traveled from her home in Pennsylvania to plead for the public’s help.
Watch Diane Kaufman’s plea below.
“She was a very compassionate young lady, had a heart of gold, and was on her way to work to help other people,” Kaufman said Dec. 7 as she struggled to overcome her tears. “All I’m asking is that the Nashville community that she loved so much come together and help us find who did this to my daughter.”
A reward was offered for information in the case. When no progress was made, an “anonymous group of Nashville business owners and entrepreneurs” increased the reward for information to more than $65,000, authorities said.
“I understand many of the persons involved in the rewards are dads who have families in Nashville and love Nashville deeply, and I thank them for their contribution,” Nashville police Chief John Drake said at the Dec. 11 news conference.
Read the arrest affidavit for Devaunte Hill below.
According to police officials, the major break in the case came within an hour of the Dec. 10 announcement about the increased reward money.
A “concerned citizen” called police and identified Hill as a suspect, authorities said. The tipster also provided the location of the suspected murder weapon.
The 9 mm gun was found and sent to the crime lab for testing.
“The firearm was test-fired and compared to the three spent 9 mm cartridge casings recovered from the scene,” the arrest affidavit states. “After being fired, two scientists stated it was a ’100% match.’”
Investigators were able to obtain Hill’s cellphone records, which showed that he was in the vicinity of Kaufman’s killing at the time and date of the shooting, officials said.
The police department’s SWAT team arrested Hill at his East Nashville apartment the morning of Dec. 11.
The same witness who implicated Hill also implicated Cowan, according to a second arrest affidavit obtained by the Tennessean. The men, friends from the same neighborhood, were in “constant communication” with one another before the shooting, the newspaper reported.
Cowan’s cellphone records also placed him near the scene of the shooting with Hill.
Drake said at the news conference that following his arrest, Hill gave a statement tying himself to Kaufman’s killing.
Watch police officials discuss the arrest of Devaunte Hill below.
Detective Chris Dickerson, the lead investigator on the case, said Hill’s arrest was the culmination of hundreds of hours of round-the-clock work.
“While it was a relief to be able to sign the arrest warrant, it was an exceptional relief to be able to call (Kaufman’s mother) Diane Kaufman, who is back in Pennsylvania this morning,” Dickerson said.
Diane Kaufman had returned to her home state to prepare to bury her daughter, the detective said.
“She said that she was able to get some closure before the funeral. I’m glad to be in the position we are this morning,” Dickerson told reporters.
She ‘truly lit up a room’
Diane Kaufman told the Tennessean that if not for the generosity of the reward donors in the Nashville community, she feared she might have never learned who killed her daughter. In a Dec. 7 plea to the public, she begged for help finding the person or people responsible.
“Caitlyn’s dream was to live in Nashville, from the time she was in high school,” a highly-emotional Kaufman said. “She had a passion for nursing, because she was a very caring individual.”
Diane Kaufman said her daughter put a lot of research into her future as a nurse. According to Caitlyn Kaufman’s obituary, she earned a bachelor’s degree in athletic training from Clarion University in 2016, followed by a nursing degree from Butler County Community College in 2018.
Caitlyn Kaufman was hired that same year by Saint Thomas West.
The obituary describes the slain nurse as selfless and kind. She loved spending time outdoors with family, friends and her beloved Great Dane, Zeus.
“She was a constant source of positivity and truly lit up a room with her presence,” the obituary states. “Caitlyn’s family and friends will miss her more than words can say, but she will remain in their hearts forever.”
A nursing scholarship has been established in her name at Butler County Community College.