Samantha MacQuilliam moved from Maryland so she could study at the University of Tampa and become a pediatric nurse.
About a dozen of her family and friends came to Florida this week for a much grimmer purpose: to see the trial of the man charged with her murder.
Matthew Dieterle, 26, is accused of beating, choking and stabbing MacQuilliam in the summer of 2007 at a house they shared with two others near Lake Tarpon. She was 19.
Authorities said Dieterle, who knew MacQuilliam in Maryland and came to Florida to be with her, was jealous because he thought she was cheating on him.
"If he could not have her, no one could have her," Assistant State Attorney Kelly McKnight said during opening statements Monday. "He was going to make sure that no one would see Samantha MacQuilliam again. He delivered 19 separate injuries to her face and head - sharp force, blunt force, strangulation."
But defense attorney Marc Plotnick called it "a case of rushing to judgment."
"The easiest person to point the finger at was Matthew Dieterle," Plotnick said.
He told jurors there are flaws in the state's case, including the fact that no murder weapon was recovered.
Though MacQuilliam was a dedicated student who worked as a waiter and nanny, authorities have said Dieterle was not a student and was not employed at the time of the slaying.
He also had some past problems. In 2003, a woman filed for a restraining order against him. Records show he also was convicted of assault and gun charges in Maryland and received five years of probation.
In May 2007, about three months before she was killed, MacQuilliam filed a domestic violence complaint against Dieterle.
Shortly after the killing, a childhood friend, Lauren Friedlieb, said MacQuilliam had sent her instant messages indicating she was in a "house for victims" - apparently a reference to a domestic violence shelter. She said Dieterle had torn up her identification cards to make it harder for her to buy a plane ticket home to Maryland, Friedlieb said.
MacQuilliam's mother, Sue Modica, testified Monday that she began getting calls from Dieterle in the summer of 2007. He told her how much he needed MacQuilliam and wanted to get back together with her. She urged him to move on, telling him in five years he probably wouldn't even remember her name.
"My very last conversation with him, he said there was no life for him ... he alluded to suicide," she said.
But later in the summer, the two were living together in the home near Lake Tarpon. Dieterle told one of the roommates that he and MacQuilliam were planning a trip to Tallahassee.
But on Aug. 2, 2007, a roommate found her dead in a bathtub in the master bedroom.
Dieterle disappeared after the killing, but was arrested three days later at Tampa International Airport after he arrived on a flight from Baltimore.
On Monday, McKnight said Dieterle left his handprint on the bathtub in MacQuilliam's blood.
After her testimony on Monday, Modica said she is relieved that the trial finally has started.
"We're looking forward to celebrating her life, instead of grieving," she said.