TAMPA, Fla. — Opening statements began in a packed courtroom Wednesday in the murder trial for the former Florida State University student accused of killing her stepfather and mother.
The trial for Nicole Nachtman, now 25, began Monday with jury selection, which carried over through Wednesday afternoon.
The trial started with a laugh through the courtroom as Hillsborough Circuit Judge Christopher Sabella asked the jurors how comfortable their seats were with a quick reply of good, it's going to be a two-week-long case.
The judge clarified for the jurors Nachtman was on trial for two counts of murder in the first degree premeditated.
Nachtman, who was 21 at the time, originally claimed she was at the university when the murder happened in August 2015, but the school told detectives her FSU ID had not been used in the previous seven days.
Nachtman is accused of driving down to Hillsborough County and shooting her stepfather before waiting overnight to shoot and kill her mother. Myriam Dienes, 56, and Robert Dienes, 67, were found dead from gunshot wounds in their Carrollwood home.
She pleaded not guilty to the murders in September 2015 and the State Attorney's Office said it would seek the death penalty, but withdrew that notice of intent in July 2017.
The state started the opening statements by presenting its case against Nachtman. Assistant State Attorney John Terry says it all began when Nachtman failed to submit paperwork for her residency.
"Instead of admitting she failed her mother, she planned to kill her," Terry announced to the courtroom.
The prosecution's case
Terry and the prosecution claimed her stepfather Robert was the one person in the way of taking care of her "problem." This after the bitter custody war between Nachtman's biological father and mother, which both sides seemed to agree with.
The prosecution added Nachtman didn't appear to have issues and seemed happy until her sophomore year at FSU, where her grades started to drop and she appeared to be struggling with school.
In the summer of 2015, Nachtman was said to have gone to spend time with her older brother, Joseph Kerry, who had joined the U.S. Air Force. Terry said Kerry had no clue his sister was going to kill his mother a month later.
The last time Robert was seen alive on Aug. 18 was at a Publix while he was shopping, the prosecution continued.
"Somewhere between the moment he left that Publix and went back home, Nicole Nachtman put a bullet in the back of his head and killed him instantly," Terry said.
The prosecution went further, adding all Nachtman needed was a $100 deposit for overflow housing at the university. Instead, he claimed she killed him and dragged his body into a spare bedroom, covering him with a blanket and locking him in. Terry adds she cleaned up all the blood and around the kitchen floor.
He says she could have left then instead of killing her mother, since she had the money and recently found out she been accepted into a room.
Terry says she didn't do that and instead discovered Myriam was trying to get ahold of Robert by email since she was unable to contact him. The prosecution claims Nachtman tried to get into the account but when she was unsuccessful, she decided to move her car to a different location.
The car's new location, the prosecution claims, was far enough away that the mom wouldn't know she was at home, but close enough where she could get away quickly. The Garmin GPS, which the prosecution claimed turned on every time the car was turned on, confirmed the location of her car at any given moment and stored data points of where the car had been taken and moved.
The prosecution discussed the two neighbors, Elizabeth Rays and Leslie Row, seeing Nachtman walking around outside after 5:30 p.m. after leaving out of a side door and recalling how it seemed strange.
Myriam came home around 9:30 p.m. and the prosecution said the neighbors heard three shots and a scream, followed by a person running past their house and the Dienes' house. Terry added the neighbors called 911 and saw a dead body in the driveway.
When law enforcement arrived at the home, the prosecution said Robert's body was found inside with a level of decomposition indicating it had been there for at least 24 to 36 hours.
After further investigation, law enforcement discovered the couple had a daughter which the neighbors said had been there earlier in the day, which made her a person of interest in the case.
The next day, prosecutors say Nachtman was called to inform her that her mother had died and claims she instantly defended she had been at the university for the last couple of days.
The prosecution said detectives discovered cell towers showed she was in Tampa at the time of the murders and she had not checked into her dorm room until 12 hours after the murders.
Detectives say she told her roommate to tell anyone who asked where she was that she was in her room. Detectives say another person told them she confided in them, saying she "continuously heard screaming voices in her head and began thinking about killing her mother."
The prosecution claims a conversation happened between Nachtman and her brother where she said, "I'm going to miss you, Joey," before whispering, "I did it, I shot them." She broke down crying and told him everything, Terry says.
Terry argued she might not have done it if she had heard the good news about housing beforehand and even got cold feet about killing her mom and tried to escape through a window. But not long after, she was confronted by her mom, the prosecution claims, saying the next thing she knew, she was in her car and driving on I-75 back to Tallahassee.
Myriam was shot three times, once in the stomach, side and ear, and the prosecution claimed the last thing she saw was her own flesh and blood pointing a gun at her.
The state ended its opening statement with the conclusion Nachtman knew what she was doing as she executed her plan, knew the consequences, tried to cover her tracks, and knew she was going to get arrested and go to jail.
The defense's case
Nachtman's defense, on the other hand, stood by their November 2018 defense that Nachtman suffered from "battered children's syndrome" and suffered abuse from her parents and would rely on an insanity claim. The defense, led by Public Defender Julianne M. Holt, claimed she was suffering from schizophrenia and did not know the consequences of her actions.
"I'm going to paint a full picture of Nachtman's life, going from the time she was born to her parents to her being in this Tampa courtroom," Holt said during the start of her opening statements.
Holt did just that during her statements, portraying Nachtman's life as going through psychological evaluations from the time she was a young kid. Holt and the defense team made the claim that it was a psychological illness that led to the death of Nachtman's parents.
The illness started, Holt argued, with the bitter, warlike custody battle between her biological parents, claiming her biological father was eliminated from her life due to the custody battle.
Holt said Nachtman lost her brother Kevin at a young age and her life was full of instability from there, moving from state to state, moving from parent to grandparent.
In total, the defense claims Nachtman went to 13 different schools before graduating from Sickles High School in Tampa.
Holt painted a picture of Nachtman's mother, Myriam, as a hardworking, domineering type, who "refused to acknowledge Nicole was not as strong as she was." Holt also claimed Nachtman was developmentally delayed and was not toilet trained at the age of 3, but knew some words and could talk.
Holt claims there were concerns of Nachtman's mental well-being, which was only worsened by the physical and verbal altercations between her biological parents.
Her grades were slipping and she reportedly had behavioral problems until the seventh grade, when she moved in with her grandmother, the defense claimed.
Holt adds it all changed for the worse again when Myriam took her daughter up to Virginia with her, making her repeat the seventh grade. Holt said Myriam's judgment was again questioned when she claimed Myriam said Nachtman should live alone in her own apartment during high school.
There were bullying instances where Nachtman's computer had been taken, the defense claimed, and Myriam just responded with, "I'll just buy her a new one."
Holt explained Nachtman's obsession with Japanese anime and the Elsa character in Frozen and how she at one point even dyed her hair to look like her. The defense went on to claim she had problems doing basic, everyday routines like bathing and going to class at FSU, which caused her to smell bad, and would be randomly found sleeping in odd places around campus.
Nachtman lived in a fantasy world and would prefer that to reality, the defense claimed.
The defense adds Nachtman has underdeveloped coping skills, which were worsened by Myriam's desire for her daughter to look a certain way. Holt added Myriam paid for Nachtman to undergo Lasik eye surgery and liposuction.
She added Nachtman did not have many friends and claims the psychological, pathological family and abuse led to her eventual insanity. Nachtman was found by her mother with a gun and sleeping pills in her room, the defense claims, which is when her mother asked if she needed help. The defense claimed she told her no, so the mother said she would teach her how to use the gun.
The defense ended their opening statements by claiming Nachtman was demonstrating typical signs of schizophrenia, including staying up all night and sleeping all day, having nightmares, hearing screaming voices, and irregular social interactions, including never going on dates or having prolonged social contact with anyone.
Nachtman's neighbor Emma, who was 14 at the time of the incident, took the stand after the opening statements to be cross-examined. Emma claims she went to Sickles with Nachtman and knew her over the years, but did not have extensive interaction with her outside of trick-or-treating one year together.
Emma said she often saw her neighbor, Robert, outside working with his shirt off but did not see him shortly after the incident occurred. She said she heard three loud booms which she thought were fireworks and heard a loud scream of "pain."
She said she saw the body of Myriam in the driveway and confirmed the placement of the body in a picture shown.
The defense asked Emma why she had limited interactions with Nachtman, and she said it was because both were shy. The defense asked her if she thought it was a bit odd Nachtman asked for vegetables instead of candy and she said yes and reestablished the alleged lack of connection between Nachtman and her family.
The trial will continue at 9 a.m. Thursday with further witnesses in the case.
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