- Associated Press - Friday, June 27, 2014

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - The Mississippi Supreme Court has rejected a death-row inmate’s appeal, saying the trial judge was correct in blocking expert-witness testimony of a cognitive psychologist because the discipline relies on subjective believe or speculation.

Caleb Corrothers, 32, had claimed he was the victim of mistaken eyewitness identification and that the trial judge erred in not permitting the defense to counter with testimony from a cognitive psychologist.

Corrothers was convicted in 2011 on two counts of capital murder and sentenced to death. The Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision Thursday upheld his conviction and sentence.

Corrothers argued a cognitive psychologist would have testified that eyewitness identification can be unreliable. Prosecutors objected, saying cognitive psychology is not legitimate science.

Justice David Chandler, writing for the court’s majority, agreed with prosecutors, saying expert testimony will always be deemed unreliable if it is the product of subjective belief or speculation.

The trial judge determined the psychologist’s testimony was unreliable and irrelevant. Prosecutors said the credibility of a witness is a fact to be determined by a jury.

Prosecutors said Taylor Clark and his father, Frank Clark, were shot and killed on July 11, 2009, in their Oxford-area home over drugs and money. Tonya Clark, Taylor’s mother and Frank’s wife, was wounded. Another son, Josh Clark, was present but was not injured.

Court records show Josh Clark picked Corrothers out of a photo lineup. Josh Clark and Tonya Clark identified Corrothers from the stand during trial, but records also show Tonya Clark was unable to pick Corrothers out of a pre-trial photo lineup.

The defense said testimony of a qualified cognitive psychologist could have helped the jury in assessing those identifications. They said the testimony was important to Corrothers’ right to a proper defense.

Chandler said the trial judge didn’t rule specifically on admissibility of the cognitive psychologist’s testimony. He said the trial judge determined the testimony would not help the jury and would be confusing.

Chandler said it was apparent from testimony during a hearing to determine if the psychologist could testify that the psychologist’s “opinions were undermined by his inaccurate and incomplete understanding of the facts on which he based his opinions.”

“These deficiencies rendered his opinions so fundamentally unsupported that they could offer no assistance to the jury and amounted to nothing more than unsupported speculation,” Chandler said.

Dissenting Justice Josiah Coleman said Corrothers was denied the chance to attack the evidence against him.

“Because the state possessed no forensic evidence, the conviction of Corrothers hinged in large part on the eyewitness identifications, and Corrothers based his defense on the contention that the two eyewitnesses against him had misidentified him,” Coleman said.

Coleman said testimony of the psychologist would have helped the jury.

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