Former Mobile neurosurgeon’s reckless murder trial reaches end of testimony

Prosecutor seeks to undermine credibility of doctor who testified for defendant
Published: Mar. 17, 2023 at 5:32 PM CDT
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MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - After three full weeks, testimony now is complete in the reckless murder trial of former neurosurgeon Jonathan Pishoi Nakhla, who is accused of causing a deadly traffic accident.

Mobile County Circuit Judge Ben Brooks denied a renewed defense request for a mistrial on grounds that prosecutors failed to disclose surveillance video until after the trial had begun. He set closing arguments for Monday.

Nakhla, 38, was a well-regarded surgeon at Mobile Infirmary when he lost control of his Audi R8 Spyder at about 12:40 a.m. on Aug. 1, 2020, on the Interstate 65 service road. The resulting crash resulted in the death of Samantha Thomas, a 24-year-old University of South Alabama School of Medicine student who was riding with him.

On Friday, prosecutor Ashley Rich grilled defense witness Dr. Harrison Pearl, who testified on Thursday that he diagnosed Nakhla with a concussion. That contradicts testimony from a colleague, Dr. Amber Gordon. She told jurors earlier in the trial that Nakhla was exhibiting signs of intoxication, not concussion.

It is an important factor in whether Nakhla is responsible for the high-speed wreck or whether another driver caused the accident by turning in front of the defendant, causing him to swerve.

Rich challenged Pearl’s credibility, confronting him with a text message he sent to Gordon after the trial had started. That text message read: “Amber, are you going to testify against Johnny? I’m praying what I am told is not true.”

Rich asked if that was an effort to influence Gordon’s testimony or coerce her not to testify. Pearl denied that. He testified that he found it unusual because it is uncommon for one doctor to testify against another.

“I just wanted to talk to her about it,” he said.

Asked how he even knew what Gordon’s testimony would be, Pearl reluctantly testified that he learned it from Nakhla, himself.

Pearl also testified that he and Gordon appeared to agree on a concussion diagnosis when they discussed it at the time and her medical records match his.

“It seemed she agreed with me on her documentation,” he said. “But now she says something different.”

Pearl stuck to his original opinion.

“He clearly had a concussion,” he testified.

Nakhla did not take the witness stand. But the defense did introduce employment records from Field and Stream in Mobile indicating that prosecution witness Christopher Davis worked there in July and August 2020. That contradicts his testimony that he was working on an offshore oil rig at the time. He is the man the defense contends caused the wreck.

The defense has argued throughout the trial that Nakhla lost control of his car because Davis tuned in front of him without signaling as he was pulling into the Comfort Inn parking lot. Prosecutors allege that Nakhla was drunk and speeding at the time.