TAMPA, Fla. — Court began Tuesday morning with some powerful testimony as Nicole Nachtman's brother, Joseph Carey, was called to the stand.
Nachtman faces two first-degree, premeditated murder charges after being accused of shooting and killing her mother and stepfather, Myriam and Robert Dienes. Law enforcement said they were both found dead from gunshot wounds in their Carrollwood home on Aug. 20, 2015.
Nachtman, who was 21 at the time, originally claimed she was at Florida State University in Tallahassee when the murders happened. The school told detectives her FSU ID had not been used in the previous seven days.
There was a brief and seemingly heated exchange Monday between the judge and the defense in terms of context and misleading the jury with Nachtman and her talking about Elsa, the character from the movie "Frozen" during the trial.
Carey, now 36, outlined his and Nachtman's back story and childhoods, including the fact the two shared the same mom but had different fathers. He said his biological father died by suicide not long before his mother was killed. He added his full-blooded brother, Kevin Carey, died in a car crash in 2003.
Carey testified he felt the family had a "sturdy foundation" in Tampa and said he felt it was a bad idea for his mother to move to Virginia with Nachtman. Carey said he chose to live with his grandmother and stay in Tampa and Nachtman moved to Virginia with their mother. Myriam would later meet Robert and the two married in Virginia.
Carey said he stayed close with Nachtman over the years and said she would tell him about things going on in her life. He said Nachtman even stayed with him for three to four weeks during the summer of 2015 in Washington State where he lived with his wife and kids, not long before the shootings happened.
He said he first heard about the murders after he was getting off of a 12-hour shift from the Air Force. Carey said his first indication was Robert had killed Myriam before killing himself.
Carey said he first heard from Nachtman while he was trying to book a plane ticket to Florida and asked if he could call her back. He said she seemed normal, saying, "Hi, Joey!"
After calling her back, he said the two had a normal conversation. He said he started to end the conversation, adding "I'll see you soon."
He testified she replied after getting quiet, whispering, "I'm going to miss you, Joey."
He said he asked her, "What do you mean?"
He testified he was concerned she was going to harm herself. After getting quiet again, he said she finally whispered, "I shot them, I shot mom and Bob."
Confused, he said, "What do you mean you shot mom and Bob?"
He said she just started crying "really bad" and started talking really fast. He said he tried to calm her down and make sense of what she was saying.
Carey then testified Nachtman told him she had been hearing an uncontrollable, high-pitch screaming in her head which had been affecting her sleep and giving her nightmares.
He said she told him, "If only I got the good news and call about the dorm room earlier, I wouldn't have had to do it. I'm not sorry I did it, but I'm sorry I had to do it."
He said he got off the phone with her because he wanted to think correctly and call the family to figure out what to do next.
Carey said after calling her back, Nachtman again whispered, "I didn't think I could do it, but I shot Bob."
He says she told him a lot of the screaming went away after she shot Bob and that she started seeing "positive" signs everywhere, saying what she did was right, but that she needed to "finish the job."
He said she went back and waited overnight for Myriam to arrive before she got cold feet at the last second. Carey said Nachtman said she mistimed leaving her room out of the window. He added she told him she ran into mother and the mother said, "Nikki, what the f*** are you doing here?"
Carey testified that Nachtman later said, "You can call me a beast, but don't call me a monster."
Carey got emotional as he spoke about his response to Nachtman, saying he told her, "Why did you have to do that? You had options."
Following a brief discussion outside of the jury and prosecution and defense, the defense began its cross-examination.
The defense went back and questioned both Nachtman's and Carey's past. Carey clarified Myriam had met Nachtman's father, Ronald Nachtman, while she was in the middle of a "bitter" divorce with Carey's biological father in Houston. He testified there was a lot of arguing and even pushing between Ronald and Myriam, and eventually, Ronald would move out before the couple was divorced and Myriam gained full custody of Nicole.
The defense asked Carey if Myriam would "belittle" her children and call them a "disgrace" at times and he testified she did. He went on to testify the defense was correct in saying Nachtman was a "happy" and "bubbly" child before she started becoming more introverted and seemed to lack self-confidence around the sixth grade.
He said she stopped "singing and dancing in front of strangers" and stopped wearing brighter colors, keeping to herself and "escaping" to her laptop.
Carey said he told the family and his mother he was concerned after hearing from Nachtman that she had been bullied. He said Myriam had responded with "she just needs to get more confidence."
After the defense questioned him about Nachtman being forced to undergo liposuction and Lasik eye surgery by their mother, he said it was true.
Carey said "don't tell mom" had been told to him a few times by Nachtman, but said he could not testify whether or not Nachtman had lived in her own apartment at age 17 while she was a student at Sickles High School.
He agreed with the defense's claim that Robert had not taken an "active" parental role in Nachtman's life and said Myriam stopped talking to him after he wouldn't allow Nachtman to live with him in New York.
The defense went back and forth with Carey over the context of the interaction between Myriam and Nachtman and whether or not it was confrontational.
He also testified Nachtman was "scared to death" of her mom.
The defense played a video clip of Carey having a video call with Nachtman while she was in jail and she appeared to be in good spirits.
After asking how she was doing, Nachtman said, "Pretty good," adding she was "eating somewhat healthy" and had "no stress or anxiety." She said she could "finally look in the mirror and sleep better."
She added, "I know this is weird, but I feel so much better." She discussed the possibility of "getting out" and how she wanted to buy the family "some gifts" and "get you something nice."
She also talked about the set-up of her jail cell and how she was able to get some paper and pens to draw with.
Carey admitted he had a falling out with his grandmother and the two hadn't spoken again until recently.
Following a brief break, the state asked more questions of Carey during a redirect. He agreed with the prosecution that Myriam probably got an apartment for Nachtman so she would be closer to Sickles High School.
Carey testified Myriam was "demanding," but only to the extent she wanted her kids to succeed. He agreed with the prosecution that Nachtman might have been changing due to being in her teenage years.
He said he encouraged her to get Lasik eye surgery, especially since "someone else was paying for it." He also agreed with the prosecution that Myriam was just concerned for Nachtman and wanted her to "make sure she's running and eating properly."
He also said while Nachtman seemed to be scared of her mom, he never saw Myriam physically harm Nachtman. He said Nachtman was afraid of not meeting the mom's expectations.
Carey said he was surprised by Nachtman at times since she was clearly intelligent enough to get into FSU and would sometimes drive for long distances on her own, maintaining she probably could care for herself.
After Carey and the jury were dismissed for lunch, the discussion over premeditation was questioned on the basis of prior case law. The motion to dismiss the claim of premeditation was denied by Judge Sabella.
The state officially rested its case and the trial continued after lunch around 1 p.m. Tuesday.
The defense's second witness
After a discussion of hearsay and what would be allowed as discussion in the trial, the defense called its second witness, Elana Roe.
Roe said she lived on the same road as the Dienes family and Nachtman. She said their families weren't close, but were neighborly and said she reminded inviting Nachtman over to go trick-or-treating with her daughter.
She also testified she thought it was strange Nachtman had asked for vegetables instead of candy while trick-or-treating.
Roe said she got a phone call from her daughter about not coming home because of the shooting that just occurred on Aug. 20, and testified there were limited reactions between Nachtman and her stepmother and mother.
Nicole's biological father testifies
Ronald Nachtman, Nicole's biological father, was brought to testify in her defense. Ronald, who now works as a human anatomy college professor, testifies he met Myriam around January 1993 and that she became pregnant with Nicole around mid-April 1993.
He said he knew about her two other sons who lived in Florida with Myriam's mother, but said he had no idea until later Myriam had been married and was going through a divorce.
He said the relationship between he and Myriam "drastically changed" after Myriam started screaming, saying he was "abusive."
He said he moved out while Myriam was pregnant, but moved back in a few months later for the birth of Nicole in February of 1994. He claimed he slept in the same room as Nicole and he alone cared for her for several months.
Ronald testified he moved to a two-bedroom apartment so she could have a nursery but said after November of 1993, Myriam started trying to prevent him from seeing her.
He said at one point in 1995, he had joint custody with Myriam and said Myriam started filing "phony" police reports and would not return Nicole when she was "supposed to."
"I didn't know if her mother was taking care of her," Ronald said.
He testified Myriam continued to fight for full custody and said he and his family were blocked from having contact with Nicole from 1998 to 2015. He said he would not see her again until August of 2015 when he went to the jail.
When the defense asked if Ronald fought to see Nicole, he said, "I never gave up, not one day having a relationship with her." He said he has been mailing postcards and putting money into her account at jail.
The prosecution questioned the legitimacy of the relationship between the father and daughter, and questioned him about another custody issue he had with a different child. After a lengthy pause, he admitted to the issue with the other child he had lost custody of.
Nicole's friends testify
Laura Hessimer was called as the defense's next witness and said she was likely Nachtman's only friend at FSU. She said she first met Nachtman in history class and said she would always wear blue jeans with a T-shirt and an old, windbreaker jacket, year-round.
She said the jacket would become very "smelly" and she would wash it for her and tell Nachtman to take a bath since Nachtman did not wear deodorant. She also said Nachtman would wear weights on her wrists because her mom "wanted her to lose weight."
Hessimer also testified Nachtman was "fearful" of mom and didn't seem excited to go home during the breaks.
She said she had an "imaginative mind," loved to draw, and wrote a lot of fictional, horror stories with "Elsa," the character from Frozen. She also testified Nachtman had at one time dyed her hair blonde and sewed together an Elsa costume.
She said she told Nachtman to stop dying her hair blonde or it would "break." She said Nachtman told her "her friends helped her dye her hair," and Hessimer said "I don't know of any other friends."
During the cross-examination, the prosecution asked if she ever heard Nachtman being yelled at by Myriam, and she said no. She said she seemed fearful of disappointing her mom, but also that her mom financially supported her.
After a short break, Hessimer's roommate, Angelica Henwood was called to testify. She said Nachtman was a "general" friend, but they weren't very close. She said she was very shy, wore a lot of sweaters even though it was hot out, she was a self-drawn person, and said she was very "average."
She testified she had an overall "sad demeanor" and said she didn't seem happy with her major. She said her mom wanted her to change it and she said she should try to be more independent and make decisions for herself. She said Nachtman told her she did what her mom wanted to do.
She said her and her roommate encouraged Nachtman to shower at their place and could wash her clothes at their place, but that Nachtman had declined. She added Nachtman had a "BO" type of smell and wore the same clothes a lot.
She said she would stay at their apartment on the weekends during big FSU football games since she wanted to "avoid confusion" about where to park since she had been previously towed.
Nachtman had been let out of her ROTC program at FSU due to declining grades, she said. She testified Nachtman appeared more interested in her computer and always seemed to be chatting with people online on the Tumblr blog she started about the Elsa character.
Myriam's brothers and Nicole's uncles testify
George Lehr, Myriam's brother and Nachtman's uncle, was brought forward to testify. He testified Myriam was the only girl in a military family with five boys and always wanted to be like "one of the guys."
Lehr said Myriam was "tough" on Nachtman and said he didn't meet Nachtman until she was around six or seven-years-old.
He said he didn't agree with his sister, Myriam's decision to send Nachtman to boarding school and later having her live in her own apartment by herself during high school.
He testified Nachtman went from "dressing like a gypsy" and being very outgoing as a child to seeming like she wasn't very "happy" with herself and more reserved from the family, not even stopping to say hello.
He said he heard her "talking to herself" in the other room. He added he never saw Myriam hug, kiss, or have an emotional bond with Nachtman. One of the few times he can remember, he added, was when the two were joking around and laughing outside of the grandmother's house while they were painting the home together.
Lehr said Nachtman would "sneak" food at his mother, or Nachtman's grandmother's house. He said it was likely Myriam who was concerned for her weight.
He said Nachtman invited him over for steaks, but said she undercooked the steak and he said he couldn't eat it.
When asked about the relationship between Myriam and Robert, Lehr said Myriam "ran the whole show."
During cross-examination, Lehr was asked to clarify the relationship between Myriam and Nachtman and was asked about the time the two were seen painting together. The prosecution pushed further, questioning whether it was the mother's responsibility to make the decisions or the family's.
Another uncle, Eric Lehr, was called to the podium to testify. He said he never met Mr. Nachtman and testified he first met Nicole when she around two or three years old. He said Myriam made it "impossible" for Mr. Nachtman to have access to Nicole.
He added Joseph called him to help him get away from home and that he had bought Joseph a bus ticket from Texas to Tampa. He said Joseph stayed at his grandmother's house the rest of his time in Tampa.
"The only consistency in her life was being at her grandmother's house," Eric said.
He said it would have been better for Nicole to stay around the family instead of being sent away to the air academy, but said Myriam sent her away anyway.
He testified Nachtman appeared to change following the academy, saying before she had been "big into makeup" and "doing her hair," but said she stopped after that and seemed depressed.
He said Myriam appeared all "lovey-dovey" with Nicole in front of them, but that would quickly change with her short temper and would reprimand her no matter who was around.
Eric testified he brought Nicole to the mall and she suddenly disappeared. Concerned, he said he called the sister to see if she was with her, and she said no, but said she was on her way to pick her up. When he finally found her, he asked where she was and told her her mother was on the way.
He said she started bursting out crying and started saying, "don't let me go with her," adding he saw what he thought was fear in her eyes.
Nachtman had started "being unkept," he said, not wearing matching clothes or clothes that fit properly, stopped wearing makeup, and doing her hair, and was wearing multiple layers of clothing. He also testified he caught her talking to the chair next to her when no one was there.
After going ice skating together, he said Nachtman was seen talking to a chair with no one in it yet again at a restaurant. He said when he asked her who it was, she said "nobody."
The cross-examination from the prosecution is expected to resume at 9 a.m. Wednesday and the defense is expected to bring in experts to testify on Nachtman's mental state.
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