The murder trial for William Thomas “Tommy” Chisholm shortened Thursday as the defense’s expert witness was deemed unqualified to testify.
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 on Jan. 13, 2018. 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.
After Chisholm opted out of testifying Thursday, Dr. Jennifer Carroll, a licensed professional counselor, took the stand to testify on an evaluation she performed on Chisholm’s mental state at the time of the alleged crime. Although Carroll works in the field of psychology, she is not a licensed psychologist or licensed to practice any type of psychology but rather a counselor with a doctoral degree in general psychology.
Assistant District Attorney Marc Amos, leading the prosecution with District Attorney Scott Colom, argued that in the state of Mississippi, it is illegal for someone to represent themselves as a psychologist or practice psychology without a license, both of which Carroll claimed to do on her curriculum vitae.
“You’re telling the public you’re a psychologist even though you aren’t?” Amos asked.
“I guess that’s correct,” Carroll said.
The judge ruled in the state’s favor as only a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist may be hired to perform a mental evaluation on a suspect.
Chisholm’s Defense Attorney Mark Cliett of West Point moved for a mistrial claiming the defense was under the impression Carroll had the credentials to testify, to which Judge Howard overruled.
“We were under the impression from talking to Dr. Carroll that she was able to make these opinions to a reasonable degree of psychological certainty, and all of the issues that were addressed on cross-examination about a license and accreditation, I addressed those things to her,” Cliett said. “She assured me that she was able to make those opinions.”
Howard also overruled Cliett’s two motions from the prior day for the court to either quash the capital murder indictment or reduce it to first-degree murder due to the “legally improper” wording on Chisholm’s indictment. Cliett argued Wednesday that his client had not entered Walmart on the day of the crime and committed or intended to commit a felony, but Howard said if he is accepting all evidence from this week’s trial as true, then it would be a felony of aggravated assault.
In another attempt to defend his client, Cliett moved to review a previously recorded testimony from Dr. Robert M. Storer, a licensed psychologist, who had performed an evaluation on Chisholm June 11, 2019, to analyze his mental state at the time of the alleged crime. While this video was only supposed to be used as the state’s rebuttal witness if the defense had actually presented an expert witness, both councils agreed the recording could be shown and Howard approved it.
Cliett said his intentions for showing the video of Storer’s testimony were for the jury to see the cross examination, but Storer continuously affirmed Chisholm was in a proper state of mind at the time of the crime.
“Based on all of the information that I reviewed… in my opinion, to a reasonable degree of psychological certainty, Mr. Chisholm did not have a mental disease, defect or disability that could have interfered with his ability to know the nature and quality of his alleged acts or the wrongfulness or those alleged acts at the time of the offense,” Storer said.
Chisholm’s trial continues today.