As "Bernie" Goes Free, Victim's Granddaughter Says Hollywood Has Wrought an Injustice

Categories: Crime

berniemarjorie.jpg
Bernie Tiede, with Marjorie Nugent
On Tuesday, some 18 years after shooting 81-year-old Marjorie Nugent in the back and stuffing her body in a deep freezer, and three years after Jack Black played him in the Hollywood retelling, Bernie Tiede walked from a Carthage courtroom a free man.

The former mortician, now 55, had been serving a life sentence for the murder. But after appellate lawyers presented new evidence that Tiede had been sexually abused as a child, and after Panola County District Attorney Danny Buck Davidson agreed to a lighter sentence, state District Judge Diane DeVasto ordered his release, so long as he receives sexual abuse counseling and lives in the garage apartment of Bernie director and Austin resident Richard Linklater.

Dallas attorney Shanna Nugent, Marjorie's granddaughter, learned of Tiede's release through her mother, who had heard of the decision on the radio.

"This is very shocking to me," says Nugent, who was preparing to graduate from college at the time of the murder and is now an attorney in Dallas. "I've kind of never heard of this happening before. We went through a whole three-week trial. He had a whole defense. He never brought any of this (his history of sexual abuse) up. From what I can tell, there's no evidence that it occurred, and I'm not sure it lessens his crime at all."

To Shanna Nugent and her family, Tiede is a murderer who finagled his way into an old widow's will. then killed her in cold blood. Period.

She blames the 2011 film for clouding that picture, pushing a narrative in which Tiede is a friendly and generally upstanding citizen who snapped because Nugent is an insufferable harpy who kinda sorta had it coming.

"The movie is just the murderer's defense at trial to shooting an 80-year-old woman four times in the back at close range," she says. "I think for us personally, you know, all I can say is I constantly sit there and think about my grandmother. She's a sweet little old woman. ... I miss all the things I don't get to do with her."

That's all gotten drowned out in the flood of sympathy for Tiede that's followed the film's release. New lawyers signed on to assist with Tiede's appeals. They, in turn, hired psychiatrist Richard Pesikoff, who, according to the Texas Tribune, concluded the shooting resulted from a "dissociative experience" in which years of repressed emotions -- over his childhood sexual abuse and life as a closeted gay man in a small conservative town -- momentarily overcame his typical reserve. Edward Gripon, the psychiatrist who testified for the state at the original trial, eventually agreed.

Had Tiede not been the subject of a critically acclaimed film, Shanna Nugent is convinced he'd still be in prison today, which is where she thinks he should be.

"It really feels like to me Hollywood has taken over the Texas criminal justice system."

Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.


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10 comments
FauxburbanDallas
FauxburbanDallas

Four shots in the back of an 81 year old woman? With a rifle? Sounds like "intentionally and knowingly" to me. Recently made heir to 8-figure fortune? Seems like the trial court got it right in the first place. Motive? Check. Elements of the crime? Check. Life is perfectly appropriate in such cases. Was he wrongly prevented from putting on his defense at trial? ? I haven't seen anything to suggest he complained of denial of due process or ineffective assistance of counsel.

lftay
lftay

I agree with the granddaughter in that I'm not really clear why Mr. Tiede's sexual abuse should absolve him of any responsibility, nor why Ms. Nugent's supposedly being a harpy matters at all,  I'm sure all sorts of people from poor families have had horrific things happen to them, but we (rightfully) wouldn't think that this absolves them for responsibility for the crime.  I would suggest that the judge erred in not making Mr. Linklater include Mr. Tiede in his will, then ordering him to move into his garage apartment.

uberdeft
uberdeft

Bernie was one of the best FILMS I have seen in many years. The courts, though, need to perpetuate victimhood. Lawyers, judges and experts all making each other relevant while regular citizens suffer the consequences.

tonysmith
tonysmith

@uberdeft  This man killed a defenseless elderly woman. This has nothing to do with "regular" citizens versus lawyers. This is a grave injustice. Unfortunately, I cannot imagine it getting reversed because the state seems solidly behind the defendant. Imagine if he were black -- his butt would probably be dead by now, from the death penalty. But racial privilege does not exist. 

tdkisok
tdkisok

@bvckvs


If he was a woman (of any race) and claimed her husband abused her (with plenty of evidence) he would still be in jail.


FauxburbanDallas
FauxburbanDallas

@bvckvs @lftaySo, we should look for all white murderers to be set free in the coming weeks and months? Certainly all white persons in occupations that seem "hyper conservative," right? And, wouldn't this guy's association with Hollywood types make him conservative kryptonite? I mean, the Right isn't exactly cozy with the type of filmmakers that live in Austin and advocate for the release of murderers, right? That sounds more...well, Barack-y.

uberdeft
uberdeft

@tonysmith  Bernie used childhood whatever as defense to get out of prison early. I didn't say it outright but yeah, it is a problem.

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