Sunday, September 23, 2018
News Roundup

State no longer seeking death penalty for former FSU student in deaths of mother, stepfather

TAMPA — Nicole Nachtman, a former Florida State University student accused of shooting to death her mother and stepfather, no longer faces execution.

The Hillsborough State Attorney's Office last week filed a notice that it will discontinue its pursuit of the death penalty for Nachtman, 23.

The tersely worded document does not elaborate on the reason for the change. But questions about her mental state at the time of the crime may have been a factor.

Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren declined to discuss specifically what led him to decide the death penalty was not appropriate for Nachtman, noting the case is ongoing. But he did speak in general about how he evaluates such cases.

"I thoroughly evaluate each capital offense for any aggravating and mitigating factors such as criminal history or mental illness," he said.

Nachtman was a sophomore at FSU when she was arrested on two counts of first-degree murder. Neighbors near the Carrollwood home where she lived reported hearing gunshots the night of Aug. 20, 2015.

When sheriff's deputies arrived, they found Nachtman's mother, Myriam Dienes, 56, lying dead in a next-door neighbor's driveway. Inside her house, they found the body of her husband, Robert Dienes, 67. Both had been shot.

Investigators said Nachtman fled immediately after the attacks, heading north to the FSU campus in Tallahassee. A witness later told deputies that Nachtman confided to him that she heard "screaming voices in her head" that told her to kill the couple. She had also seen "signs on campus" that "her dreams were about to come true," the witness said.

In interviews with detectives, other witnesses described Nachtman as eccentric and terrified of displeasing her mother.

When first questioned, Nachtman claimed she had been away at college in the days before the murders. But her university ID badge had not been used to swipe into any FSU buildings for seven days.

The Nachtman case was one of several death penalty cases Warren inherited when he became state attorney in January. Since then, he has said he will review each to determine if capital punishment is appropriate.

"I seek the death penalty in cases that are so heinous, atrocious and so undeserving of mercy as to be considered the worst of the worst in our society," he said.

Among the factors he considers, he said, are the wishes of the victim's family. In Nachtman's case, the family understood the reasoning for the decision, Warren said.

"We take the wishes of the victim's family into consideration, especially when they don't want to wait years or decades for closure in a case involving the death of a loved one," he said.

No trial date has been set for Nachtman. In a hearing Thursday morning, a public defender said some witnesses still need to undergo depositions. The next pretrial hearing is scheduled for Oct. 13.

Contact Dan Sullivan at [email protected] or (813) 226-3386. Follow @TimesDan.

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