For the second time, a Panola County, Texas jury has sentenced Bernie Tiede to a term of life in prison for the 1996 murder of 81 year old Marjorie Nugent. The case gained widespread notoriety as a result of the 2011 motion picture “Bernie” in which Tiede was portrayed by actor Jack Black.
In 1999, Tiede was tried and convicted for the murder of Nugent. The jury handed down a life sentence. Tiede confessed to shooting Nugent four times in the back with a 22 caliber rifle. Following the murder, Tiede hid Nugent’s body in a freezer that was sealed with duct tape and remained in the residence the two shared. The body was not found for nine months. Tiede was the long time companion of the wealthy Nugent who was more than 40 years his senior.
Influenced in part by the film, new evidence came to light that Tiede had been sexually abused by an uncle when he was a child. Additionally, Tiede’s attorney argued that Nugent was abusive and controlling towards Tiede and that the killing was the result of a dissociative episode brought on by Nugent’s abuse. In 2014, Tiede was granted a new trial to determine punishment based on this new evidence.
In a surprising development, Tiede was released on $10,000 bond while awaiting a new trial. As a condition of his bond, he was ordered to live in Austin, in the garage apartment of film executive Richard Linklater who co-wrote and directed the movie which had helped effectuate Tiede’s second chance.
For a time, it appeared that Tiede’s release would be permanent. The Panola County District Attorney, Buck Davidson, appeared poised to offer a plea bargain of 17 years in prison, which had already been served. In March of 2015, however, Davidson, under considerable pressure, recused himself from the case. Ironically, the recusal was based on Davidson becoming a potential fact witness in the case due to his work with Linklater on the movie. Judge Diane DeVasto appointed Assistant State Attorney General Adrienne McFarland to represent the State in the retrial. Mcfarland took a much different view of the case. No lenient plea offers would be extended.
Over the last three weeks, a new jury heard evidence in the re-sentencing. Jurors were allowed to hear evidence of the alleged sexual abuse of Tiede by his uncle. They also heard expert testimony that the type of abuse Tiede allegedly received from Nugent could be responsible for him snapping and committing the murder.
In the end, the jury was unmoved by the arguments made on Tiede’s behalf. After deliberating just over four hours, the jury reached the same conclusion as the original jury did in 1999. Bernie Tiede was sentenced Friday night to life in prison…again.