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Killer in ‘Bernie’ movie could still face scrutiny

Austin American-Statesman

January 2, 2015

he East Texas mortician whose murder case inspired the dark comedy film “Bernie” could have his life sentence wiped off the books as soon as June, but his prosecutor won’t rule out trying to pursue other charges against him.

Bernie Tiede appeared in court Friday in Carthage, the East Texas town where Marjorie Nugent, a wealthy widow with whom he had struck up an unusual friendship, was killed. After her 1996 slaying, Tiede hid her body in her garage freezer for several months. The circumstances of that case were portrayed in the 2011 movie “Bernie,” with Jack Black starring as Tiede and Matthew McConaughey playing prosecutor Danny Buck Davidson.

A judge scheduled a June 1 start to a new sentencing trial for Tiede.

Attorneys who took up Tiede’s case after the movie argued that Tiede and Nugent had an abusive relationship and that he was abused as a child. They said that his life sentence for first-degree murder was too harsh and that he should have been convicted and sentenced for second-degree murder instead.

Davidson, who remains the district attorney in Panola County, agreed to let Tiede go free on bail and pursue a formal reduction of Tiede’s sentence. Tiede has been living in Austin in the garage apartment of “Bernie” director Richard Linklater’s home.

Davidson has been harshly criticized by Nugent’s relatives, who say he ignored their emails and phone calls. Davidson met with the Nugent family before court Friday for the first time since Tiede’s release.

“I think we got the air cleared,” the prosecutor said in a telephone interview. “We’re trying to see if we’ve got some grounds to work on.”

Davidson raised the possibility of prosecuting Tiede for theft based on allegations that Tiede spent Nugent’s money after killing her. He said he had not yet made a decision.

Ryan Gravatt, a spokesman for the Nugent family, called the meeting “terse.”

“The Nugents expressed their disappointment with how Danny Buck Davidson has treated them and how poorly he’s prosecuted this case,” Gravatt said.

Jodi Cole, Tiede’s attorney, did not return a phone message Friday.

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