Judge in Mobile reckless murder trial to weigh mistrial request

Defense claims prosecutors withheld surveillance video that could be important to case
Published: Mar. 3, 2023 at 6:10 PM CST
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MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - A judge will determine Monday whether to grant a defense request to declare a mistrial in the reckless murder trial of a former Mobile Infirmary neurosurgeon.

Defendant Jonathan Pishoi Nakhla’s lawyers argued that his case has been put at a disadvantage by an 11th hour disclosure of hours of surveillance video from inside a motel near where a fatal car wreck claimed the life of 24-year-old medical student Samantha Thomas. She was a passenger in Nakhla’s car, and prosecutors allege that the doctor was drunk and speeding at the time.

The defense theory revolves around Christopher Davis, who was turning into the parking lot of the Comfort Inn on the Interstate 65 service road at about 12:40 a.m. on Aug. 1, 2020. Defense lawyers have suggested that Davis turned without signaling, causing Nakhla to swerve and lose control.

On the witness stand – outside the presence of jurors – Davis offered a different account Friday. He testified that the oncoming car was about 400 yards away and that he turned left after signaling. Defense attorney Dennis Knizley said surveillance video contradicts that.

Davis was vague about many of his answers, often telling Knizley that he did not remember. He said he went to the motel to meet up with his brother-in-law and two high school classmates in the Navy who were visiting form out of town. But he said he does not know their last names and could not remember if he had ever been to any of the motels in that area. Knizley suggested the motels along the service road are in a high-crime area that attracts drugs and prostitution.

The Mobile County District Attorney’s Office previously had given the defense surveillance footage form the Comfort Inn. But prosecutors said Thursday they had discovered additional footage form inside the motel that they did not realize police had.

Mobile County Circuit Judge Ben Brooks sent the jury home Friday morning and spent most of the day watching all of the videos in the courtroom. It mostly shows empty hallways but depicts three men leaving their motel room and returning a while later with Davis. It also shows Davis’s brother-in-law carrying one of the Navy friends who appeared to be passed out.

The defense on Friday also referenced Facebook messages suggesting heavy drinking took place among the group.

But Davis testified that he had not been drinking or using drugs when he pulled into the parking lot.

Davis did not talk to law enforcement officials about the accident until just this week, Prior to that, he gave only a written statement to police. His uncle, retired Mobile police Lt. Alfred Davis, testified that was at his suggestion.

Defense attorney Richard Jaffe pressed Davis about why his nephew’s written statement did not include anything that occurred inside the motel. Davis responded that the statement focused only about what happened while his nephew was driving.

“Anything else is irrelevant,” he said.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys will make arguments Monday morning about whether the judge should declare a mistrial. If he decides to continue, testimony will resume at 1 p.m.