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'Damaged person' or calculated killer? FSU student on trial for mom's murder.

Nicole Nachtman, left, sits next to her attorney, Hillsborough Assistant Public Defender Dana Herce-Fulgueira, during jury selection for her murder trial this week. Nachtman faces two counts of first-degree murder in the 2015 shooting deaths of her mother and stepfather. Nachtman’s defense will argue that she suffered from battered child syndrome, the result of years of abuse from her mother. Opening arguments were made on Wednesday. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]
Nicole Nachtman, left, sits next to her attorney, Hillsborough Assistant Public Defender Dana Herce-Fulgueira, during jury selection for her murder trial this week. Nachtman faces two counts of first-degree murder in the 2015 shooting deaths of her mother and stepfather. Nachtman’s defense will argue that she suffered from battered child syndrome, the result of years of abuse from her mother. Opening arguments were made on Wednesday. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
Published Jul. 25, 2019

TAMPA — Days before Nicole Nachtman was accused of fatally shooting her parents, her mother found her in a bedroom of their Carrollwood home with sleeping pills and a loaded gun.

The 21-year-old Florida State University student would later tell a psychological expert that she felt lost and suicidal.

But when Myriam Dienes asked her daughter on that August 2015 day if she needed help, Nachtman said no.

Dienes asked no other questions. Instead, the military officer showed her daughter how to shoot the gun.

That was one of a number of startling revelations Hillsborough Public Defender Julianne Holt shared with the jury during Wednesday's opening statements in Nachtman's murder trial.

Nachtman, now 25, faces two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Myriam and Robert Dienes.

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The defense does not deny that she killed them, but argues that the daughter suffered a lifetime of abuse, had an undiagnosed mental illness and was insane at the time of the crimes.

"A damaged person sits here today," Holt said. "And the evidence is going to show that."

Assistant State Attorney John Terry told the jurors a different story, one of a young woman who simply wanted to get rid of her overbearing mother.

"Rather than dealing with a strict, demanding mom, a mom she could not please, she decided to eliminate her from her life," Terry said.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Is a former FSU student a battered child, mentally ill, or a liar? A jury in her murder trial will be asked to decide

The lawyers addressed a panel of seven women and seven men who were carefully chosen over more than two days of jury selection.

If they find Nachtman guilty as charged, she faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole. But the defense hopes to convince them she is not guilty by reason of insanity.

The prosecutor described Nachtman's alleged crimes in precise detail. He talked about how, on Aug. 18, 2015, Nachtman was worried because she had not obtained housing at FSU, where she was about to start the fall semester. She feared what her mother would say, so she concocted a murderous scheme.

Myriam Dienes, who was a captain and nurse in the Navy, was away on a trip. That's when Nachtman shot Robert Dienes in the back of the head, the prosecutior said. Nachtman moved her stepfather's body into a bedroom. He was last seen on Aug. 18.

"The person who stood between her and her ultimate goal of killing her mom had been eliminated," Terry said.

Myriam Dienes tried to call and text her husband over the next day, and expressed concern when he did not reply. Nachtman could see the messages, the prosecutor said, and tried to log into her stepfather's email.

Neighbors saw Nachtman in and around the Carrollwood home on Aug. 20. Late that afternoon, she drove her car to a nearby neighborhood, parked, and came back home. A GPS system recorded the movement, Terry said.

A few hours later, Myriam Dienes arrived home. When she confronted her daughter, the state said Nachtman shot her mother three times.

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Nachtman then drove back to the FSU campus, the GPS tracking her movements. She later told investigators she had been at her dorm for the last two days.

Holt sought to bring the daughter's entire life into focus.

Long before the question of her fate hung in a Tampa courtroom, Nachtman found herself a pawn in a bitter custody battle between divorced parents, Holt said. Her problems were compounded after she came under her mother's sole custody.

Myriam Dienes's military career meant the family had to move frequently, which meant Nachtman had to enroll in a new school nearly every year.

Her home life was marked with chronic instability and turmoil. She lost one older brother when she was still young. Her other brother left home because of an abusive environment, Holt said.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Doctor testifies that former FSU student turned murder suspect was abused

Nachtman was left alone, with a domineering mother, who demanded perfection from a daughter, the defense told the jury.

But frequent moves made it difficult to make friends. She struggled academically, and school officials noted a lack of focus, emotional problems, and disorganized thoughts.

She retreated into a fantasy world, becoming obsessed with Japanese anime and the Disney animated musical Frozen.

Holt said an expert will testify that Nachtman showed signs of schizophrenia. Specifically, she had a delusion that her mother was going to kill her.

The trial is expected to continue through next week.

Contact Dan Sullivan at dsullivan@tampabay.com. Follow @TimesDan.