UPDATE: The second day of testimony has wrapped, with jury dismissed for the evening at about 5:45 p.m. Thursday. The jury heard testimony from several first responders and some witnesses of the crash. Jurors were shown several videos from body cameras of first responders on the scene.

Jurors also heard from some witnesses and saw photos of the crash from the crime scene investigator.

The second testimony was from Sarah Percy, who is now with the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office internal affairs, but she was a patrol officer with mobile police at the time of the accident.

WARNING: Details from the following testimony are graphic.

Percy testified seeing Samantha Thomas hanging from the seat of the car upside down, the top half of her head had been ‘chopped off.’

She arrived after Officer Estes. During some of the video recorded from her body camera, you hear Nakhla tell first responders, “no there’s a girl in there, I’ve been trying to get an ambulance in here, we gotta get in here.”

Body camera footage also shows Percy speaking with Nakhla when he is in the back of an ambulance. In that exchange, Nakhla recalls what happened, saying he and ‘his friend were going to get ice cream.’ He told Percy he had been driving down the service road and was coming from ‘Dauphin Island’ headed south on the service road driving about 50 mph when a car cut him off. Nakhla told Percy on the video he slammed on his brakes and the car lost control.

Nakhla asked Percy where he was, as he did not know where he was. Percy testified she did witness Nakhla acting upset but did not believe his reactions were genuine.

The defense questioned her if she believed Nakhla was showing any signs of intoxication at the time, she said she didn’t, but pointed out he incorrectly referred to Dauphin Street as Dauphin Island. She also told the defense he seemed coherent and could give her the same statement about what happened twice.

In the video, Nakhla asks about “the girl,” before saying “I already know” before another officer confirmed Thomas did not survive the crash.

Percy told the jury she observed Nakhla already emotional before hearing about Thomas. She testified he had asked about the car first and that’s when he initially got emotional. She testified she did not believe his response to Thomas’ death was genuine.

Before the jury returned from lunch, Mobile County Judge Ben Brooks warned the people in attendance on the defendant’s side about their phone usage. Brooks threatened to bring them up, swear them in, and ask them under oath who they are texting. His concern, they would be texting a potential witness about the testimony in the courtroom. He threatened to take away their phones and threatened jail time if he discovered they were texting with a witness.

He then called in Nakhla’s father. The senior Nakhla is not allowed in the courtroom, as he is a potential witness. He has been at the courthouse every day but has not been in the courtroom since the jury was seated. Judge Brooks swore in the elder Nakhla, asking him if he received a text from anyone in the courtroom while he has been outside waiting. He confirmed he had received a text message from his son, Jonathan Nakhla, about how he was nervous, and he responded to his son.

Judge Brooks threatened him not to let that happen again. WKRG News 5 witnessed at least one phone being confiscated from the defendant’s side after the initial warning was made.

After lunch, jurors heard from Denitia Smith, who worked at the EconoLodge in 2020. She worked the front desk of the motel overnights.

She was one of the people who called 911. Jurors heard that Wednesday evening phone call. She recalled seeing a car flipping and landing in a ditch. She told jurors she was outside talking and smoking when she heard a loud noise, looked, and saw the car flipping. She testified seeing the car coming from the service road. She recalled running to the fence and calling 911.

She says she first believed the people in the car were dead, before seeing ‘a guy come up from the water,’ trying to help someone else.

She told the defense Nakhla sounded scared, and she warned him not to go back in the water, but he did go back ‘under the water’ trying to get in the car.

One of the Mobile Fire Rescue firefighters who responded to the scene also testified. He can be seen in both Percy and Estes’ body camera video cutting down the fence to get to Nakhla and the car. The firefighter told the jury that Nakhla had no sense of remorse when they first responded and he was still in the ditch. Instead, the firefighter testified to prosecutors Nakhla said he needed his belongings, specifically his watch and phone, from his car and his demeanor was ’emotionless, not in line with someone who had just taken a life.’

The defense questioned that demeanor, asking the firefighter if he agreed that different people react in different ways when they experience trauma. The firefighter responded, “I guess.” But reiterated Nakhla showed no signs of remorse, and that Nakhla had a sense of no emotion at all, needing his belongings out of the car. The defense then zoomed in on the body camera video showing what appeared to be a watch on Nakhla’s arm. The firefighter testified he did not see Nakhla getting the watch out of the car, and was just going off what he said at the crash site.

The jury also heard brief testimony from a woman who was driving on I-65 South when the crash happened. She said she saw a lot of debris coming onto the interstate, but didn’t know where it was coming from. She says she turned around to see what was going on, and saw the first responders and the car upside down in the ditch. She didn’t see the crash actually happen.

The final testimony of the day came from one of the Mobile police crime scene investigators. During his testimony, the prosecution showed the courtroom numerous photos the investigator took of the crime scene, and he described what the photos were.

WARNING: Details from the following testimony are graphic.

The photos showed the crash site and the investigation of what happened. The jury saw photos of the skid marks coming off the service road into the ditch, the fence that was knocked down by the crash, damage to the guardrail, damage to the car, and several graphic photos of Samantha Thomas.

Those photos showed part of her skull missing, with a bruise on her shoulder area. The photos also showed the airbags had been deployed on both the driver’s side and the passenger’s side. In the photos, the jury saw the top was down on the Audi R8 Spyder, and photos of parts from the vehicle littered around the crash site.

Some of the photos were only shown to the jury, those photos were described to the courtroom. In one of the photos only the jurors saw, the investigator described Thomas’ skull cap stuck on the guard rail. There are also photos of skull fragments around the crash site.

Those photos were the last thing the jury saw Thursday evening before Judge Brooks called for a recess. Testimony will continue Friday morning.

Earlier reporting:

MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — The trial of a Mobile doctor charged with murder continued Thursday with a jury in the courtroom. First to testify in the reckless murder case against Joseph Nakhla was Mobile Police Officer James Estes, who arrived on the scene after Nakhla’s car wrecked into a ditch on the West I-65 Service Road in August 2020, killing medical student Samantha Thomas.

Estes testified that Nakhla was in a ditch when he arrived. Estes said Nakhla had blood on his face and the Audi Spyder he had been driving was upside down.

Nakhla told Estes he needed to help Thomas, Estes testified. Estes said he went to the car, shined his flashlight inside and saw Thomas with part of her head missing. He knew then that she was dead.

Estes said he then walked north on the service road and saw where the fence was broken. Estes said you could see skid marks on the road. Nakhla told police he was driving 50 to 55 mph at the time of the crash. Estes said he did not believe this, based on what he saw. During opening statements on Wednesday, prosecutors alleged that Nakhla was driving 138 mph just before the wreck.

Police body camera footage from the night shows Estes and witnesses at the scene. You could see Estes shine his flashlight on the car. You can also see Nakhla show an ID badge he had as a volunteer police surgeon.

A defense attorney for Nakhla asked Estes if showing the ID badge was a good thing, and Estes said it was. Estes said Nakhla asked for help, urged Estes to go to Thomas, and asked about Thomas’ condition. The defense asked if Nakhla appeared to be upset, and Estes said he did.

The district attorney’s office laid out their case in front of the jury Wednesday, arguing the Defendant thought he was entitled, and that’s the theme of their entire case. 

Prosecutors say Samantha and two of her friends were drinking by the pool on July 31st, 2020, Nakhla got home from work and joined them. 

Testimony began Wednesday afternoon, with two of Samantha Thomas’ friends. One, Tristan Hughes, lived in the same apartment complex as Thomas at the time of the crash. Hughes is a Doctor of Pharmacy and now lives in Pennsylvania. His wife was in the same medical school class as Thomas, and they were all friends.

Hughes testified Nakhla kept trying to get Thomas or her friend Paige Farley to go for a ride to the waffle house or to a bar or club. Hughes says he questioned Nakhla if he was ok to drive – and testified Nakhla responded if he ever gets pulled over he will show his police surgeon ID card. Prosecutors showed that card to the jurors.

The second witness, Dr. Paige Farley, is also a friend of Samantha. Farley and Thomas were in the same medical school class at the University of South Alabama. Farley is now a surgery resident. Farley testified she did end up going with Nakhla in his car for a ride hours before Thomas got in the car with Nakhla. She testified Nakhla was driving at speeds of 150 miles per hour on I-65, she told jurors she was afraid and looked at the speedometer to see how fast he was driving. 

Farley also testified Nakhla put his hand on her thigh multiple times. She says she took his hand off her thigh and told him no, reminding him he was married. 

She also testified she saw Nakhla bring two bottles of wine down to the pool area, and saw him consume some of the wine and whiskey.

The district attorney’s office says he was drinking from 7:00 p.m. until midnight and had a blood alcohol level of .11. The legal limit is .08.

The defense attorneys argue video from the apartment complex where Nakhla and Thomas both lived, showing Nakhla holding a drink is actually him drinking coffee.

They also questioned the black box data of his Audi R8 Spyder, which prosecutors said showed Nakhla was going 138 miles per hour moments before the crash that killed Thomas. The defense attorneys say the car’s black box was defective.

Defense claims there is another driver who caused the accident, saying he turned in front of Nakhla without a turn signal on, causing Nakhla to swerve. 

The long day for the jury Wednesday ended with the District Attorney’s office playing the 911 calls in the courtroom, an emotional moment for Thomas’ family.

In that audio, the jury heard the frantic calls about seeing a car flip eight times on the interstate and seeing a woman stuck in the car, who they said had been decapitated. 

WKRG News 5 has a team in the courtroom. We will continue to update this story as we learn more from the day’s testimony.