TAMPA — Almost four years ago, Joseph Carey was stationed with the Air Force near Seattle when he got word that his mother and her husband had been shot to death at their home in Tampa.
His first concern was for his younger half-sister, Nicole Nachtman, who was 21 at the time. He didn't know how she would handle the horrific news.
He bought an airline ticket to Tampa. In a phone call, he told her not to worry, that the family loved her.
"I'm going to miss you, Joey," she said.
Confused, he asked what she meant.
"I shot them," she whispered. "I shot mom and Bob."
Carey, 36, took the witness stand in a Tampa courtroom Tuesday morning as the final witness for the prosecution in his sister's murder trial.
In more than an hour of testimony, the career military man sat straight-backed, his voice a monotone but at times quaking with emotion, as he described how she confessed to the August 2015 killings of Myriam and Robert Dienes.
The defense has argued that Nachtman's mother was abusive, and that Nachtman believed she was going to kill her. They are also relying on an insanity defense, saying she didn't understand the wrongfulness of her actions.
At his home that August day, Carey clutched the phone as he leaned forward on a couch, trying to decipher his sister's words.
She told him that ever since she returned from a school-related trip to London, she had been experiencing "uncontrollable screaming in her head."
"It was affecting her sleep and she was having nightmares from it," Carey said.
She talked about how she'd had trouble securing housing at Florida State University. But she learned it finally came through after she shot her stepfather at the family's Carrollwood home. She said if she'd gotten the good news earlier she would not have done it.
She said the screaming in her head went away after that.
"I'm not sorry I did it," she told her brother. "But I'm sorry I had to do it."
She spoke of seeing motivational posters which said things like "You can do it," her brother said. She took it as a sign that she needed to finish what she'd done.
"It almost sounded like she was proud of herself," he testified.
She waited in the house for her mother to arrive. But when she did, Nachtman got scared. She tried to sneak out a window, she told her brother. But Dienes spotted her in the driveway.
"Nikki, what the f--- are you doing here?" she said.
Nachtman told her brother she blacked out after that.
Defense attorney Dana Herce-Fulgueira asked Carey about their respective childhoods. He recounted the bitter custody battle between Myriam Dienes and Nachtman's biological father. Dienes was known to belittle her children and to call them "a disgrace," he said.
A career Navy officer and combat nurse, Dienes moved her family frequently. When Carey was 15, and Dienes prepared for a move to Virginia, he ran away and lived with his grandmother in Florida.
As Carey progressed through high school and later joined the military, he saw changes in his sister.
He said she was a happy child who liked to dance and sing but became introverted in adolescence. He said he believed she had low self-esteem. Her mother believed she was overweight, forced her to work out, and eventually made her get liposuction.
By the time Nachtman graduated high school, she had attended 13 different schools. When she reached college, her brother believed she was still immature. She had poor hygiene and had to be told to clean herself.
After Nachtman told her brother about the shootings, Carey said she seemed relieved. He told her that when detectives came to question her, she should ask for a lawyer.
Weeks later, after her arrest, Carey visited her in jail. A recording of their video visitation session was played for the jury.
"I know this is weird," she says in the video. "I just feel so much better."
Ronald Nachtman took the stand in the afternoon. He told the jury about how he met Myriam Dienes in 1993 while living in Texas. At the time, Dienes was going through a divorce from Joseph Carey's father. She became pregnant a few months after she and Ronald Nachtman began dating. Their daughter was born in February 1994.
But before that, the relationship began to sour. The father was asked why.
"I was being repeatedly punched in the head and face," he said over an objection from prosecutors.
He said they both got lawyers. Accusations flew. He mentioned "phony police reports" intended to block him from seeing his daughter.
Nicole Nachtman lived with her father for a time when she was a small child.
A defense attorney showed the jury photos of the father and daughter when she was a toddler. On the stand, Ronald Nachtman began to breathe heavily, his voice halting.
"She looks so happy," he said.
He lost custody before she turned 5. He didn't see her again for years. He sends post cards now every day. He tells her he loves her.
Contact Dan Sullivan at email@example.com. Follow @TimesDan.
DAILY REPORTS FROM THE NACHTMAN TRIAL