William Thomas ‘Tommy’ Chisholm of Kosciusko was found guilty of capital murder in the January 13, 2018, shooting death of his former girlfriend, Dr. Shauna L. Witt, at her vision practice in the Starkville Walmart.
26 minutes, 39 seconds.
That is how long it took an Oktibbeha County jury to convict William Thomas “Tommy” Chisholm of Kosciusko of capital murder following a four-day trial last week.
Chisholm, 44, was charged in the Jan. 13, 2018, shooting murder of his ex-girlfriend, Dr. Shauna L. Witt, as she worked in her vision practice located in the Starkville Walmart located on Hwy. 12.
In an effort to avoid an even lengthier case time frame, the Witt family asked prosecutors to avoid seeking the death penalty. Instead, Chisholm was sentenced by Judge Lee Howard to the mandatory life without parole sentence that accompanies a capital murder conviction where the death penalty is not sought.
During the trial, prosecutors — who had placed a photograph of Witt directly in front of the defense table — presented testimony of witnesses to the shooting and law enforcement, as well as a series of video recordings from Walmart cameras and first responder body cameras.
Howard ruled that some photographs, such as those showing closeup images of Witt’s injuries, would not be shown in open court, but instead were provided directly to jurors during testimony and during their deliberations. Howard also restricted photography and videography of witness testimony during the trial.
As he opened the prosecution’s case, District Attorney Scott Colom said there was little doubt as to Chisholm’s guilt.
“This ain’t a murder mystery. It’s clear what happened,” he insisted. “It’s about how someone allows their rage and selfishness to get to a point where they would allow someone to do one of the worst things another human can do to another human — which is take their life.”
In video played in open court, Chisholm is shown entering a doorway from the exterior of Walmart and turning right through a second door into Dr. Witt’s practice.
In that same video, Witt’s assistant Kaylace Beatty Dorman is shown running toward the same door while urging fellow employee Heather Ashley to call 911. In tearful testimony, Dorman said she was aware Witt had a restraining order against Chisholm. As the video continues, synced audio of Ashley’s 911 call was heard in court. As Ashley informs the dispatcher of the situation, shots are heard.
According to prosecution witnesses, when Chisholm entered Witt’s offices, he knocked on the door where she was treating a patient and her five-year-old child. Witt reportedly opened the door and told Chisholm to leave. When he again knocked on the door and Witt opened it, he pushed forward and began to remove the gun from his right coat pocket. Witt tried to prevent him from doing so, according to testimony from the patient who witnessed the struggle.
Dorman, who also witnessed the incident, said she saw Chisholm turn with the gun in his hand as Witt moved past him, headed toward the exit door.
“I remember seeing Tommy pointing the gun and hearing shots,” said Dorman, who had followed Chisholm into the clinic area. “I remember hearing shots and I remember looking at her, looking at Dr. Witt and thinking she was going to get away. Then I saw her get hit and fall in the corner near the door.”
Dorman then ran back through the exit and into the vision center. Seconds later, just after Dorman and Ashley fled into the main Walmart store, Chisholm is again seen in the doorway, this time coming into the vision center with a gun visible in his right hand.
Additional video shows Chisholm walking back and forth between the vision center and the clinic location where Witt fell. He then exited the building and went to his car, where law enforcement body camera footage shows Chisholm being apprehended.
In bystander video taken by Walmart customer Ken Murrell, Jr., Chisholm is heard asking police to shoot him.
“Kill me. Kill me. Take me down. Kill me,” Chisholm yells to police. “Please kill me.”
Once in custody, he kicked out the side window of the police cruiser in which he was being held, indicating another effort to flee, according to prosecutors.
At the close of the prosecution’s case, Chisholm’s defense attorney, Mark Cliett, asked the judge to dismiss the charges due to what he referred to as a charging error in the indictment, and failing that, to dismiss the case because, he said, the prosecutors had not met their burden of proof. After hearing arguments on both sides, Howard ruled against both motions.
Cliett then put his only witness on the stand, asking that Dr. Jennifer Carroll be approved to provide expert testimony as to Chisholm’s mental state at the time of the crime.
Through questioning by Assistant District Attorney Marc Amos, however, Carroll was found to be unqualified to present her opinion to the court. Amos spent an extended period of time pointing out a series of deficiencies in her qualifications to conduct an assessment of Chisholm’s mental capacity at the time of the crime. In the end, her lack of licensure as a psychologist or psychiatrist — as required by law to provide such “expert” testimony — led Howard to rule against allowing her report and testimony in the case.
Cliett then asked Howard to declare a mistrial since jurors heard testimony critical of their declined expert witness, a motion Howard ruled against. The attorney eventually received permission from the prosecution to enter their rebuttal deposition video of Dr. Robert M. Storer — which was nearly three hours in length — into evidence. At the end of the deposition, Storer, who had evaluated Chisholm in June 2019 by court order requested by his former attorney, said Chisholm understood the nature and quality of his actions at the time he shot Witt and also understood the wrongfulness of his actions. During the deposition, it also became clear that Dr. Carroll, who was not permitted to testify, had come to the same conclusion.
For its final piece of evidence, the prosecution — without comment — showed a video nearly four minutes in length of Chisholm’s interview with police less than three hours after the shooting. In it, the defendant calmly answers a series of basic questions about himself and his family.
During passionate closing arguments, Colom reminded the jury that the defense did not contend that Chisholm was not the shooter and said that there had been no evidence presented that proved he was insane when he killed Witt.
For his part, Cliett said that, despite the expert testimony to the contrary, Chisholm was insane and that his behavior indicated that. He noted that Dr. Storer, when questioned, admitted that certain things the defense alleged were “possible” in terms of Chisholm’s potential mental state. But in the end, even he seemed resigned to the outcome of the trial.
“I think the theme of my argument is sometimes things don’t work out. I mean in general, in life, in relationships, in this trial, sometimes things don’t work out,” he said, noting that he felt they would have the option to declare that Chisholm’s acts had occurred in the heat of passion. But that, he said, was not permissible under the specific charges were filed against his client.
Colom used Cliett’s theme in his final statement to the jury, as well.
“Things didn’t work out. They didn’t work out,” he said. “Things worked out just the way he (Chisholm) wanted.”
During a press conference called by Colom following the verdict, Bo Oswalt, a spokesman for the Witt family, said the family appreciated everyone who comforted them or aided in the prosecution of her killer.
“Shauna’s motto for her life was, ‘Choose joy.’ If you know anything about joy, it’s a long-term thing. It doesn’t depend on the immediate circumstances. It’s just placing your hope and your trust into something that is long-term,” he said. “We have chosen to choose joy over these last three and a half years.”