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Finally, a challenge to the bizarre release of murderer Bernie Tiede

By Tod Robberson
Dallas Morning News
June 18, 2014

I continue to outraged, as I was in my May 8 blog posting, about the release from prison of Bernie Tiede, the confessed and convicted murderer of Marjorie Nugent in her East Texas home in Carthage. Tiede was portrayed sympathetically by actor Jack Black in the Richard Linklater film, Bernie, which was a fictitious dark comedy that poked fun at a real-life tragedy.

Tiede’s lawyer and Linklater went before a judge several weeks ago and convinced the judge to free Tiede from prison while his life sentence is being reviewed. Everybody in this case, including prosecutor Danny Buck Davidson — whose job is to be an advocate for the people, not Tiede — seems to have been blinded by the star quality of this case. They appear to have relied not on the facts of the case itself but on Linklater’s dramatization.

Finally, Nugent’s family has decided to fight back after having remained silent while they relied on the justice system to work ever since the 1996 murder.

On Wednesday, they send a letter to Davidson, the Panola County district attorney, asking for an explanation of what I regard as his dereliction of duty (my words, not theirs). They regard Davidson’s actions, in failing to raise objections as the reason why the judge agreed to order his release on bond and placement into Linklater’s custody, according to a family statement.

“No one can be harmed by permitting presentation of countervailing arguments. To the contrary, adversarial presentation of the merits would serve the ends of justice. Marjorie Nugent and the citizens of Texas deserve better than to have a confessed murderer set free without anyone even articulating to this Court the reasons why that might not be appropriate,” the family says in their motion.

“Our criminal justice system works when two sides present their arguments and a judge hears them to make a ruling,” Shanna Nugent said, according to the family statement issued Wednesday.  “It appears that the only “facts” presented are from Tiede himself and not in direct testimony under oath.  This seems to be a one sided procedure in the extreme.”

Shanna Nugent is also concerned over the role the movie “Bernie” played.  “Would Tiede be free today and living with Richard Linklater if he were any other inmate?  Is this really equal justice?”

The answer is, flatly: No way. This is Texas. Michael Morton had to spend 25 years in prison while he worked to convince the court system that he was innocent of his wife’s murder. He didn’t receive a day free on bond, in Linklater’s or anyone else’s care, while his case slowly worked its way through the justice system. And he was exonerated. Bernie Tiede is a confessed murderer!

In his confession, Tiede said he considered beating Marjorie Nugent to death with a baseball bat but decided that he “didn’t want her to suffer.” So he pre-placed a hunting rifle in a hallway, then grabbed it while following Mrs. Nugent out to her garage. He shot her in the back. He confessed that she was breathing heavily while collapsed on the garage floor. So he shot her again. Then he stuffed her body into a deep freezer, covered her with frozen food, then cleaned up all the blood on the floor. Then he went about his business for the following months as if nothing happened.

She was a millionaire. When police raided Tiede’s home, they found five Visa cards, four Mastercards, four American Express cards and documents connected to numerous bank and brokerage accounts. There’s every reason to believe that Tiede had been milking Nugent of her money and that she had been demanding an accounting of funds she had entrusted to him for investment purposes. He panicked.

There is no question from Tiede’s confession that this murder was premeditated. But his lawyers are trying to argue that he somehow had experienced a “dissociative” episode in which he was behaving in response to sexual abuse he had been subjected to as a child. He was prompted to take this action because she had been mean to him, causing him to relate her treatment to that of the person who molested him as a child. Therefore, I guess, he should be excused for shooting Nugent and stuffing her body in a freezer and enjoying the high life on her money.

I can understand a judge’s decision, perhaps, to agree to hear this additional argument while keeping Tiede exactly where he belongs — in prison as a convicted murderer. But to negate the wishes of the jury that convicted him based upon an overwhelming preponderance of evidence, and to release him from prison even before this new argument has been tested and challenged in court, is an absurd abuse of justice.

Good for the family for finally fighting back.

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