Jurors begin deliberations in insanity phase of Jason Schuller murder trial
A psychiatrist in the trial of Jason Schuller testified Thursday, Dec. 21, that Schuller, convicted this week of murder, was psychotic when he fatally shot William Tackett, believing the victim was a demon.
A prosecutor in the case challenged that conclusion, questioning Dr. Jason Roof’s motives for giving the opinion and whether drug use can mimic symptoms of mental illness.
Having convicted the 36 year old of first-degree murder in the March 20, 2016, death of Tackett, jurors in the case now must decide if Schuller — who pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity — was insane at the time of the shooting. Their decision will determine if he’s incarcerated in a prison or sent to a mental hospital or other facility.
Jurors spent about an hour Thursday afternoon deliberating. They reached no decision, and are scheduled to return Jan. 2 to continue deliberations.
The second phase of the trial began that morning with Roof, called to the witness stand by Deputy Public Defender Micah Pierce. Roof told jurors that Schuller suffered from a bipolar disorder during the shooting and in a jail interview. Schuller experienced a severe manic episode, exhibiting a reduced need for sleep, agitation and an inflated sense of self importance — all signs of mania.
“Mr. Schuller believed at the time of the crime and during my interview that he had been imbued with a special power,” Roof said. “He went into extreme detail.”
Schuller, who said he was the target of demonic and government forces, testified last week that he could show people “the light,” which would produce different results. Roof said Schuller believed that it could draw the worst aspects out of some people.
Asked about faking a mental disorder, Roof said he’s never seen someone successfully act out a manic episode.
Roof testified about a police video taken in Winnemucca, Nevada, the day before the shooting. In that video Schuller appears paranoid and disconnected from reality. Tests given to Schuller in jail showed he wasn’t pretending to have a mental illness.
Based on all the information he’d received, Roof said it was more likely than not that Schuller believed his life was in danger when he shot Tackett.
“It is my belief that Mr. Schuller was psychotic at the time of the crime,” Roof testified. “He believed he was killing a demon, someone who was trying to harm him. He didn’t understand who he was shooting at the time.”
Under questioning from Assistant District Attorney Chris Walsh, Roof testified that he was hired and paid $450 an hour by Schuller’s defense team. However, Roof said earlier that he’s under no pressure to produce results desired by his employer.
Pivoting to Roof’s opinion in the case, Walsh questioned why the doctor accepted Schuller’s version of events. Roof said it was consistent, adding he also considered Schuller’s behavior in the police video, among other factors, when forming his opinion.
Answering Walsh’s questions, Roof said he had to rule out drug use when making an opinion about Schuller’s mental state. Walsh then asked if Schuller told the doctor he’d used methamphetamine while in jail. Schuller had.
Schuller also talked to Roof about using cocaine in the past and how he’d “be gone for days,” Roof said. Additionally, Schuller discussed his past use of LSD, saying it caused hallucinations.
Roof said someone facing a murder charge could have an incentive to lie about his or her mental state.
“I don’t think that’s the case here,” he added.
Deborah Schmidt, a psychologist testifying for the prosecution, said Schuller’s description of the shooting raised her suspicions. She thought he may have exaggerated the story. Schuller’s decision to take a loaded handgun with him when he fled Tackett’s house suggested he knew the shooting was wrong and illegal.
“It is much more rare to experience visual hallucinations,” she said.