STARKVILLE — After the state rested Wednesday in the murder trial of William Thomas “Tommy” Chisholm, the defendant’s attorney sought to have the charge reduced or thrown out on a legal technicality.
Chisholm, 44, of Koscuisko, faces a capital murder charge for killing Dr. Shauna Witt, an optometrist who operated the eye clinic at Walmart Vision Center on Highway 12 in Starkville. His trial began Tuesday in Oktibbeha County Circuit Court with Judge Lee Howard presiding. If convicted of the capital charge, Chisholm faces life without parole.
However, for a capital murder charge, the state must prove a defendant killed a victim while committing or intending to commit another felony. Before court adjourned Wednesday, defense attorney Mark Cliett of West Point moved for the court to either quash the capital murder indictment or reduce it to first-degree murder because the wording on Chisholm’s indictment — specifically that the murder happened during a burglary — was “legally improper.”
Cliett argued his client did not enter Walmart with the intent to steal anything.
“The Supreme Court has addressed this on numerous occasions but every time they addressed the burglary was of a residence and not of a building,” Cliett argued. “The burglary of a residence only requires the intent to commit a crime therein where burglary of a building requires the intent to commit a felony therein if the intent is not to steal.”
Assistant District Attorney Marc Amos, helping District Attorney Scott Colom lead the prosecution, argued that the state has submitted proof that he intended to commit aggravated assault, which is a felony in Mississippi.
“He took a gun into a building or a business,” Amos said. “That is the proof of the intent to commit a felony.”
Howard did not take any immediate action following Cliett’s motion but took it under advisement.
The state finished presenting its argument Wednesday after the final four witnesses testified, including Mark LeVaughn, the Mississippi chief medical examiner at the time of the Jan. 13, 2018 shooting.
As a forensic pathologist, LeVaughn’s goal is to determine a manner of death on every patient he examines. After analyzing Witt’s body, LeVaughn said all three major gunshot wound spots were fatal.
“In my opinion, the manner of death of Shauna Witt is homicide,” LeVaughn said. “In my opinion, the cause of death of Shauna Witt is multiple gunshot wounds.”
Three Starkville police officers also testified Wednesday, including Arin Hanohano, the officer who attempted life-saving measures on Witt after responding to the scene; Wesley Koehn, the officer who documented the crime scene; and lead investigator of the case, John Michael Lay.
Lay was assigned the case after being the first investigator to arrive on scene the day of the crime. After officers apprehended Chisholm, he entered Walmart and said the scene was “chaos.”
“They were at Walmart, but the way I see it is Mr. Chisholm might as well had walked into your OBGYN office or your doctor’s office or you’re with your child in a doctor’s office and shot you,” Lay said on the stand.
Chisholm’s trial continues today.