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Suspect's friend who led detectives to murder weapon testifies in Kaufman trial

Key witness Jacques Merrell-Odom takes the stand to testify in the trial for Caitlyn Kaufman's alleged murderers. (Photo: FOX 17 News){ }
Key witness Jacques Merrell-Odom takes the stand to testify in the trial for Caitlyn Kaufman's alleged murderers. (Photo: FOX 17 News)
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A friend of one of the suspects charged in Caitlyn Kaufman's death took the stand Thursday.

Days after the Nashville nurse was shot to death on the interstate, 23-year-old Jacques Merrell-Odom went looking for Kaufman's mother at St. Thomas West, claiming to have information on her daughter's murder.

He did not get in touch with her, but agreed to go to police headquarters where he was formally interviewed by Sgt. Chris Dickerson, lead detective for MNPD's Homicide Unit. Merrell-Odom said he had information on the gun used in the shooting which pointed to Devaunte Hill. The two had reportedly been friends since childhood.

Merrell-Odom says he went to Hill's apartment on Dec. 6, 2020—just three days after the shooting—wherein Hill said he needed to "get rid of a gun." That gun was a Springfield XD 9mm.

Hill and Merrell-Odom swapped guns, he told prosecutors. Merrell-Odom was then in possession of the murder weapon and Hill was in possession of Merrell-Odom's Smith & Wesson.

Merrell-Odom was instructed by Hill to trade the murder weapon with someone else's gun, he told the prosecution.

"I left the apartment, probably to bring my girl to work, but I came back. That's when [Hill] told me everything." -Jacques Merrell-Odom

When Merrell-Odom returned to Hill's apartment, Hill showed his friend a news story surrounding a Nashville nurse's death and said, "I did this. I f****** up."

Merrell-Odom's interview led to the execution of a search warrant at Hill's apartment, and ultimately, Hill and James Cowan's arrests. Detectives said they found Merrell-Odom's Smith & Wesson under the mattress Hill was sleeping on when he was taken into custody.

Merrell-Odom said before he went to the hospital looking for Caitlyn's mother, he spoke with his own mother—a former nurse. That's when he decided to share the information he had.

"I just didn't feel right having that weapon. Knowing about it and not saying anything or doing anything about it. I wouldn't want it to happen to my family. I wouldn't want my mom to lose me and nobody do nothing and she's gotta sit there and just take it."

He received more than $50,000 in reward money.

RELATED: Suspect in Nashville nurse's murder told friend 'I f***** up,' prosecutors say

Kaufman was driving to her shift at St. Thomas West on Dec. 3, 2020 when six rounds were fired at her Mazda SUV. She died within seconds.

Investigators say Kaufman's vehicle was shot at 6:08 p.m. that night. Around 7:37 p.m., Hill is accused of making a Google search that said "Nashville shooting." His defense team argued that web search was made to see if the driver of the Mazda had died.

Kaufman wasn't found until 8:53 p.m., when a Metro Parks officer stopped on the shoulder of I-440 for what he thought would be a disabled motorist. He found Kaufman's head slumped over, her foot still on the brake, and the vehicle running. Detectives say one bullet traveled through her left lung, heart, right lung, then came to a rest in her right arm. Three casings were found on the side of I-440, which would later be compared to a Springfield XD 9mm gun and lead to charges of Kaufman’s alleged killers.

James Cowan is also charged with first-degree murder. His attorneys told the jury Wednesday there is no proof that Cowan killed anyone or had a weapon.

Merrell-Odom told the prosecution that a few of the friends had been hanging out and smoking weed when Cowan made a flippant comment about Kaufman. “He was like, f*** it, she shouldn’t have done that shit type shit.”

Both Hill and Cowan entered not guilty pleas.


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