Experts testify about Nevada County murder suspect Jason Schuller’s mental health
Two psychologists on Thursday, Dec. 14, testified they believed murder suspect Jason Schuller was either creating or exaggerating symptoms of psychotic behavior during evaluations performed after his arrest for the fatal shooting of William Tackett.
However, one of those psychologists — Kevin Dugan — said he couldn’t rule out the possibility Schuller, 36, may have experienced hallucinations during the March 20, 2016, fatal shooting of Tackett, 67.
Dugan, who testified Thursday in Nevada County Superior Court, said he was ordered by the court to evaluate Schuller, who’s pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Dugan administered tests to Schuller, and examined reports provided by authorities about the case.
“I spent six hours watching this man,” Dugan said. “I didn’t see one psychotic symptom. Not one.
“Schizoaffective disorder is not something you can just turn on and off,” he added later, though he emphasized Schuller did show concerning behavior immediately before the shooting.
A second psychologist, Deborah Schmidt, testified that Schuller’s talk of seeing demons, and of Tackett being possessed by a demon, were unusual and caused her suspicion.
Schuller talked about hallucinating, but described Tackett’s shooting as if it were self defense, Schmidt said.
“He discussed reloading the gun, for example, taking the time to do it,” she added.
Additionally, Schmidt said she listened to a phone call between Schuller and another man after Schuller’s arrest. Schuller discussed his case and the evidence against him, but made no comments about hallucinations.
Under cross-examination by Deputy Public Defender Micah Pierce, Dugan said he couldn’t rule out the possibility that Schuller hallucinated or was psychotic at the time of the shooting. Dugan referenced video taken by Winnemucca, Nevada, police taken the day before Tackett’s death.
In that video Schuller appeared lethargic as police investigated reports of reckless driving. He also said he thought police had fired a gun behind him and at one point mentioned the anti-Christ.
The psychologist said he couldn’t explain Schuller’s behavior.
“That lends some credibility that something was going on,” Dugan said. “There were some clear indications of some fairly bizarre behavior.”
Grass Valley Police Officer Brian Blakemore, who interviewed one of Tackett’s neighbors in the hours after the shooting, testified on Wednesday.
The neighbor, Jesse McKenna, testified last week that Schuller “came out” to him. Tackett later revoked Schuller’s invitation to his home. A month later Tackett was dead, Assistant District Attorney Chris Walsh has said.
Blakemore testified that, according to McKenna, Tackett had forbidden Schuller from his home, Walsh said.
“But he didn’t really elaborate or get into any details about why,” Walsh added.
McKenna’s wife, Nicole, also testified. She said Schuller came out to her husband before Tackett’s death. However, she said Tackett wasn’t homophobic and she didn’t believe Tackett forbade Schuller because of his sexuality.
The trial is scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 19.